Two schools located in the same city, Los Angeles, separated by just twelve miles makes
for one interesting rivalry. The likelihood that alumni and students from the schools
will interact with each other on a daily basis is very high. Ohio State–Michigan and
Army-Navy are two other huge college football rivalries that come to mind, but neither
features the kind of proximity that is seen by the Trojans and the Bruins.
The schools have competed against one another in a variety of sports since the early
1900s. USC, long recognized as a “football school” and UCLA, the “basketball school,”
both have storied traditions in other non-revenue sports as well, such as track & field,
volleyball, and water polo. UCLA actually holds the NCAA record for most team national
championships with 107 and most overall national titles with 128, more than any other
school in the nation. But, it’s on the football field where the real rivalry begins.
Since the formation of the old Pacific Coast Conference, which is now the Pac-12, USC
and UCLA have shared or won 54 conference football championships. The rivalry
game, normally played the last week of the regular season, has had conference title
implications as well as, on some occasions, national title implications, and has served to
determine the conference’s Rose Bowl berth on several occasions.
One of the most memorable was the “Game of the Century” played in 1967 pitting #1
UCLA led by QB Gary Beban against the second-ranked Trojans and a phenomenal
young running back named O.J. Simpson. USC won 21-20, beat Indiana in the Rose
Bowl, and claimed the national championship. Beban did win the Heisman Trophy that
year. Simpson won it the next.
Recently, though, the game has lost some of its luster. While USC has flourished,
winning national championships in 2003 and 2004 and losing in the title game in 2005,
UCLA has struggled. The hiring of “golden boy” former QB Rick Neuheisel in 2008
was to signal the return to prominence. It was not to be as the former Rose Bowl MVP
produced only one winning season and a 21-30 overall record.
USC has dominated the rivalry of late. The Bruins’ last victory in the series was in 2006.
With another BCS title game berth on the line, UCLA pulled one of the great upsets in
college football with a 13-9 victory denying the Trojans the chance to play for another
national championship. USC still won the Pac-10 and went on to the Rose Bowl that
Since the ‘06 win, the Bruins have not fared well in the “Victory Bell” match-up, losing
miserably last year, 50-0. USC has won 12 of the last 13, holds a 46-28-7 advantage in
the series, and in the last five meetings has outscored UCLA, 158-35. USC has owned the
Victory Bell for the better part of the past two decades. The bell, originally from an old
Southern Pacific railroad locomotive, has traditionally been awarded to the winner of
the USC-UCLA game every year since 1942.
If there is a year to mark a turning point in the rivalry, it may very well be 2012. With
new coach Jim Mora, Jr., the Bruins are off to one of their best starts in recent history.
UCLA is 4-1 with a big win over then 16th-ranked Nebraska. Their only loss was a 27-20
setback to 18th-ranked Oregon State.
The Bruin offense has become more consistent and it starts with the play of freshman
QB Brett Hundley. Hundley is completing 66 percent of his passes (121-for-183),
has 1,480 passing yards, 11 touchdowns, and has a passer rating of 150.6. And, led
by Jonathan Franklin, UCLA has one of the top 15 rushing offenses in the country.
Franklin, a 5-11, 195-pound senior, has 693 yards rushing including two 200-yard
games already this season.
If the Bruins continue to improve and stay healthy, it’s possible that this year’s Nov.
17th match-up with the USC Trojans could be for the Pac-12 South Division championship.
USC, however, has it a little tougher meeting two ranked opponents, Washington and #2
Oregon Ducks, prior to the cross-town rivalry.
The Trojans are led by senior QB Matt Barkley, who stunned the football world last year
declaring he would return for his senior year at USC. With Barkley, the country’s best
receiving tandem in Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, and the addition of Penn State
transfer Silas Redd, the Trojan offense is its strength. The vulnerability lies within the
Trojan defense as Stanford proved as they handed USC its only loss of the season, 21-14.
While it may not be a “game of the century” this year, the Victory Bell tilt will be one to
watch as the regular season winds down. The UCLA Bruins will be looking for a signature win
as they enter the Mora era and will desperately want to end the Trojans’ dominance in
the rivalry. USC, on the other hand, may need the victory as it fights for to keep a BCS
bowl bid alive. The 2012 edition should be a good one, a return to the gridiron battles of
the 1960s and ‘70s.
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