The Bruins have made this one a bit more respectable, trailing No. 12 Butler by just seven at the half, although they were down by as many as 14 in the first half. If UCLA loses, it faces Long Beach State at 11:30 a.m. Sunday.
Reggie Carter believes it’s about time for Westwood to blaze again.
In 2006, after UCLA defeated USC, 13-9, the Bruins’ first win over their cross-town rival since 1998, fires sparked throughout the town, rowdy fans celebrating an unexpected victory.
Chairs were set aflame; couches, too. Even a car.
Carter remembers it vividly.
The next 364 days meant a whole lot more, though.
“The burning was just that night,” said UCLA’s senior linebacker, a freshman the last time the Bruins defeated the Trojans. “The celebrating, the talk about it didn’t end til next year. We held onto it for a year. You win that game, you keep that for the next year.”
That’s what this game means to players on both sides.
Forget the win, which would put UCLA at 7-5 and almost assuredly guarantee the Bruins a bowl bid or jump USC to 8-3, creeping them closer to a lost season’s salvation.
Forget the recruiting implications, which would boost the cases for each program, particularly UCLA, a team that is soaring up the recruiting-class ranks.
Forget even the game itself.
This is a year-long win, 52 weeks worth of trash talk and bravado.
But it won’t come easy.
The Trojans, who rank in the top-10 nationally in only two statistical major categories – punt return average and sacks. USC, which is in the midst of its worst season since 2001 – when the team stumbled to a 6-6 record in Pete Carroll’s first season as head coach – has sputtered all over the field, ranking sixth in the Pac-10 in both total offense and total defense.
The Bruins, meanwhile, are riding a three-game winning streak after a five-game skid, hungry, angry and ready for trouble.
But they are keeping things in perspective.
After all, in that last bad USC season, back in 2001, when the Trojans finished 6-6?
Final score: USC 27, UCLA 0.
“In their minds, they’re still way better, they’re still more talented,” senior cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “Our mentality is that we’re still going to put up a fight. There’s no change in mentality. They’re still the Trojans and they beat us the last couple years.”
UCLA can take solace in the fact that this is a totally different USC lineup.
The Trojans had 11 players selected in March’s NFL Draft, including five in the first two rounds, with quarterback Mark Sanchez going fifth to the New York Jets. This, after 10 Trojans went in 2008, with four first-rounders.
Still, despite losing so much talent, despite UCLA’s rise, USC enters the game as 13-point favorites.
“They’re just younger this year,” senior tight end Logan Paulsen said. “They play the same stuff, do the same thing, still have the same mentality. You can see the transfer. You just have to keep in mind you’re not playing Rey Maualuga or Brian Cushing.”
This is a huge post, so I don’t want to clutter the first page.
Check after the jump for a one-by-one look at the UCLA/USC matchup.
Alterraun Verner on UCLA keeping its eyes on USC throughout the year:
“Being in the Pac-10, we’re keeping track of every team. We know how things have to fall in to place week in and week out. You definitely notice that a USC is struggling a little bit.”
Reggie Carter on the 2006 win:
“Winning every game means a lot to me. Just because of that one, I love to prove people wrong. To see the look on Pete Carroll’s face after the game. That offense scores a lot of points and to hold them to one touchdown and a safety was amazing.”
Reggie Carter on his dislike of USC:
“I joined the UCLA family. If your family doesn’t like somebody, you’re going to jump in and not like them too. As soon as they threw me in the game I was ready to throw punches and fight. I don’t hate anyone. I was raised better than that. But I told them early this week, I want to beat them up.”
Rick Neuheisel on what the win would mean for UCLA:
“It would be a huge momentum boost, but I think momentum’s in the right direction anyway. We’re a program that’s moving in the right direction. Were improved from a year ago, we hope to improve next year. This certainly would be a signal that it’s going faster than expected. I’m not going to let the outcome of this game to derail recruiting one way or another.”
Here’s your chance, guys, to lay it all out there.
A win over USC would be great for the morale of the fans, for those who put much stock in the rivalry.
A bowl win – caveat: UCLA needs to reach a bowl first – means more for the recruiting game and for the overall momentum of the program.
So it’s on you now.
Do you want a short-term fix, a fix that will last the year in terms of trash talk, but might not sway many recruits.
Or a long-term victory, a win that could pay huge dividends in 2013 and beyond…