No. 10 USC Football Concludes Season Hosting UCLA
Nov. 20, 2011
No. 10 USC--coming off an impressive road upset over No. 4 Oregon--finishes its 2011 season on Thanksgiving weekend by hosting UCLA in the 81st meeting between the crosstown rivals. The Trojans would be a very attractive bowl team, but they are banned from post-season play for the second (and final) year because of NCAA sanctions.
USC has lost just once in the last 12 matchups against UCLA and has captured the past 4 meetings. Troy's last loss to the Bruins in the Coliseum was in 1997. USC has clinched at least a share of first place in the Pac-12 South Division, but the Trojans desire sole possession of the top spot. A win would also give Troy its 25th 10-win season in history, including its eighth in the past 10 years. And it would give credence to the rumblings that USC head coach Lane Kiffin--who has kept the Trojans more-than-afloat despite the dark clouds of the NCAA penalties--should be Coach of the Year. On the other hand, a UCLA win would give the Bruins a share of the Pac-12 South crown and send them to the Pac-12 Championship game (the Bruins also could lose to the Trojans but still advance to that game in USC's place depending on what Utah and Arizona State do this Friday). Besides all that, also at stake on Saturday are pride, year-long city bragging rights, possession of the Victory Bell and points in the Crosstown Gauntlet standings. Both teams can don their home jerseys. This is just the eighth night game in the series. The Trojans have done well historically against unranked Bruin teams. It's the final home game for USC's seniors. The game is approaching a sellout.
There will be 2 sets of brothers on opposite sidelines, including the starting free safeties (USC's T.J. McDonald and UCLA's Tevin McDonald). Both teams also feature players whose fathers and brothers once wore the opponent's colors (including TB Marc Tyler, whose dad topped the Bruins in rushing 36 years ago), as well as coaches who coached at the "other" school. UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel even earned his law degree at USC. By virtue of its win at Oregon last week, the nation has taken notice of USC as a team and individually. Troy's current AP Top 10 ranking is its highest in the Kiffin era.
Record-setting QB Matt Barkley has thrust himself into the thick of the Heisman Trophy race with his big-game performances and stats comparable to Trojan Heisman quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. WR Robert Woods, a leading candidate for the 2011 Biletnikoff and Hornung Awards, is 4 catches away from breaking Keyshawn Johnson's Pac-12 single season receptions record. Fellow WR Marqise Lee, with 60 catches and 9 TDs under his belt, is having a Freshman All-American season. TB Curtis McNeal (USC's rushing leader 7 times in 2011) is 119 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season. Dominating pre-season All-American OT Matt Kalil (with 4 blocked kicks this year on special teams) should receive strong consideration for the Outland Trophy as he anchors a line that has allowed just 7 sacks.
Troy's offense has scored at least 30 points in its past 7 games, while the Trojan defense has limited foes to 17 points or less 7 times this season. Besides pre-season All-American McDonald, the Trojan defense features the likes of Pac-12 sack leader DE Nick Perry, lockdown CB Nickell Robey and talented young LBs Dion Bailey and Hayes Pullard. Frosh PK Andre Heidari is among the nation's top field goal kickers (he has missed just twice in 17 tries).
Neuheisel's Bruins are bowl bound after clobbering Colorado at home last Saturday. QB Kevin Prince, 10th on UCLA's all-time pass completions and pass yardage lists, currently runs the Pistol offense. RBs Johnathan Franklin, 10th on the school's career rushing yardage ladder, and Derrick Coleman are the key ground gainers. Leading receivers are WR Nelson Rosario, in the Top 10 on UCLA's career receptions and receiving yards charts, TE Joseph Fauria and WR Taylor Embree, seventh in career receptions. On defense, MLB Patrick Larimore is the top Bruin tackler and he is joined by the likes of CB Aaron Hester and WLBs Eric Kendrick and Sean Westgate. P Jeff Locke is 19th nationally in punting, while WR Josh Smith is UCLA's No. 2 career kickoff returner.
The game will be shown live nationally on FSN. There will be on-field salutes of USC Olympians and USC Athletic Hall of Famers. A "Kiff's Kids" toy drive will be held around the Coliseum and fans are encouraged to donate a toy to benefit local children. The top-ranked USC women's volleyball team will battle Top 10 UCLA in the Pac-12 season ender on Friday in Westwood, while No. 1 USC and Top 5 UCLA will be among the competitors in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation men's water polo tourney in Westwood Friday through Sunday.