Saturday night at the Rose Bowl, USC and UCLA will play the final Pac-10 conference football game. Not just the final game of the 2010 season, but the final game for the Pac-10. Next year, Colorado and Utah join the conference, which will go for the mathematically correct Pac-12 designation.**
** The Big 10 has 11 teams presently and will have 12 next year and hasn't indicated it will change its name. The Big 12 (or as it prefers Big XII) will have 10 (or X) teams next year and it hasn't thought of a new name either. The Atlantic 10 conference (which doesn't play football) has 14 teams.
There will be two other Pac-10 games on Saturday, but the Oregon vs Oregon State "Civil War" and Washington vs Washington State "Apple Cup" games will start earlier in the day. With kickoff scheduled for 7:30 pm, it's quite likely that Bruins and Trojans will be fighting out the end to their dismal seasons sometime around 11 pm.
USC started the season knowing that it could not go to a bowl game, after being hit with sanctions from the NCAA. At one point, it looked like new coach Lane Kiffin had a chance to still finish with a 10-3 record, but consecutive losses to Oregon State and Notre Dame (the Irish snapped an eight-game losing streak to USC with a 20-16 win at the Coliseum last Saturday), has turned USC into a run of the mill 7-5 team.
UCLA started off poorly (losing to Kansas State and Stanford), then rebounded unexpectedly (three straight wins against Houston, Texas, and Washington), only to see the Bruins sink all the way to ninth place in the conference with a 4-7 record, 2-6 in Pac-10 play. A rash of injuries, combined with an unsettled coaching situation (in the sense that nobody seems to really know what's going on), has made 2010, in the words of Coach Rick Neuheisel, "A bit of a setback for us." That was how Napoleon described the invasion of Russia I believe.
USC has won 10 of the last 11 meetings against UCLA (two of the wins were vacated because of the NCAA sanctions), with UCLA's lone win coming in a fluky 2006 game at the Rose Bowl by a 13-9 margin. But prior to USC's recent success, UCLA had won eight straight in the rivalry.
Last year's game, which was only slightly more meaningful than this year's matchup, saw USC grind out a 28-7 win. The Trojans final touchdown came on a 48-yard touchdown pass from Matt Barkley to Damian Williams in the final minute. Pete Carroll had apparently not appreciated UCLA calling timeouts at the end and decided to make sure that his sensibilities would not be offended in such a way again. UCLA players did not take kindly to these actions.
USC and UCLA also played the final game in the history of the Pac-8 back on November 25, 1977, the Friday after Thanksgiving. UCLA had a chance to win the conference and a trip to the Rose Bowl with a win, entering with a 7-3 record, 5-1 in conference play. USC was 6-4, but had not been knocked out of the conference race until the Trojans lost at Washington two weeks earlier, dropping the Trojans to 4-2 in the conference
The Bruins took an early 10-0 lead. Frank Corral kicked a 52-yard field goal. Later in the quarter, USC tailback Charles White lost a fumble at the USC 3. The Bruins recovered. Theotis Brown would score on a 1-yard run three plays later.
USC roared back in the second quarter to reclaim the lead. After a Frank Jordan field goal cut the lead to 10-3, USC got even closer when Rob Hertel connected with Bill Gay for a 20-yard touchdown pass. Jordan missed the PAT to keep it at 10-9. The Trojans got the ball back and Hertel hit Kevin Williams for a 40-yard score, and a 2-pointer gave USC a 17-10 halftime lead.
Williams got another TD pass from Hertel early in the third quarter to stretch the lead to 23-10. Jordan again missed the PAT. However, Jordan would add another field goal to put USC up 26-10 midway through the third quarter.
That's when UCLA quarterback Rick Bashore, who had been out with a rib injury for most of the two weeks of practice, led a Bruins comeback. With 4:13 left in the third quarter, Bashore, normally a running quarterback, threw a 32-yard touchdown pass to James Owens. USC now led 26-17. UCLA coach Terry Donahue opted to go for one instead of two figuring that there was enough time left to catch up. (UCLA also needed a win, not a tie to go to the Rose Bowl.)
Early in the fourth quarter, UCLA safety Brian Baggott intercepted a Hertel pass to set up another field goal for Corral. The Bruins were down only by six.
Bashore then would lead the Bruins on an 80-yard, 16-play drive to put them up 27-26. The go-ahead score came on a 1-yard pass on fourth and goal by Bashore to Don Pedersen with 2:51 left in the game.
USC was able to get to the 50 with a minute left, but were facing third and 10. Quarterback Rob Hertel's pass to Kevin Williams appeared to be broken up by UCLA's Johnny Lynn. However, Lynn was called for pass interference, giving USC a first down at the UCLA 40.
Eventually, USC made it to the UCLA 19, when Coach John Robinson called for a running play despite USC being out of timeouts (Hertel had wasted one on the drive when he thought the Trojans hadn't made a first down) and there being less than 30 seconds to go. Mosi Tatupu was stopped for no gain and USC ran the field goal unit out. Frank Jordan, who had missed two extra points during the game, made a 38-yard field goal with 2 seconds to spare.
Washington became the first Northwest school to make it to the Rose Bowl since Oregon State in 1965. USC would go on to the Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston and rout Texas A&M 47-28. UCLA did not get invited to a bowl in an era when bowl bids were not handed out as freely as Halloween candy. Washington, behind quarterback Warren Moon, the pride of Hamilton High, defeated Michigan 27-20 in the Rose Bowl.
At the time, I hadn't developed an allegiance to either USC or UCLA because no one in my family had attended either school. I just rooted for whomever was having a better year. That usually meant I was rooting for USC. But in 1978, one of my older brothers attended UCLA and that set me on a path to Bruin fandom, which has stuck with me for better or worse.
In 2011, the Pac-10 becomes the Pac-12 and splits into two divisions for football (all other sports will use just one division). The North Division will have Oregon (this year's champion), Oregon State, Washington, Washington State, Cal, and Stanford. The South Division will have USC, UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado, and Utah. (I only promised that the conference was correct arithmetically, not geographically.)
All teams will play eight conference games, with three games played outside their own division. USC and UCLA will still play Cal and Stanford each year. One benefit of this for local fans is that UCLA won't play Oregon the next two years (Oregon beat UCLA 60-13 this year) and USC will get to skip Oregon State for two years.
The winners of each division next year will play in a conference championship game at the home of the school with the better record. The ACC, SEC, and Big 12 have used neutral sites for these games, but the Pac-10 didn't have the time to set up a game, nor a logical place to stage it.
The 2010 edition of the USC-UCLA crosstown rivalry may not have a lot of import attached to it (actually it has none, unless bragging rights have tangible value, but I have not yet seen them traded in financial markets), but it will be the end of the 33-year old Pac-10 conference. The first Pac-12 football game is scheduled for Saturday, September 10, 2011 at the Coliseum, when Utah visits USC.
Personally, I don't expect a lot of excitement at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night. Then again, I'm a UCLA season ticket holder, and my biggest excitement is to hear what Rick Neuheisel says in his postgame apology speech. The Bruins and Trojans are both maddeningly inconsistent teams. (Some would say USC is inconsistent and UCLA is just bad and I wouldn't argue with that.) USC will likely have quarterback Matt Barkley back (he missed the Notre Dame game with a sprained ankle) and he should have little trouble carving up the UCLA secondary. The Bruins will have to hope that its running game, which admittedly did look good in its wins over Texas and Washington State, can generate enough scoring and time of possession to keep the game close.
Although USC lost with backup Mitch Mustain starting against Notre Dame, the Trojans will be much better off if its starting quarterback can't play. UCLA is already starting its #2 quarterback in Richard Brehaut. In a game against Washington, Brehaut had to leave the game with a concussion, which forced Neuheisel to use backup Darius Bell, who was 0 for 3 passing with one interception that was returned for a touchdown, and then walkon Clayton Tunney (whose name was not mentioned at all in UCLA's pregame notes) who was 1 for 8 with an interception. Last Friday at Arizona State, a healthy Brehaut broke Troy Aikman's school record for completions in a game (33) in a 55-34 loss for UCLA. (Sports books have made USC a 6.5-7 point favorite. Such information is for entertainment purposes only! There's no gambling on football I hear.)
The Pac-10 conference football season may end with a clinker at the Rose Bowl, but maybe it will turn out a classic like the last game of the Pac-8. As a UCLA fan, I would just hope that the scores were reversed. As a realist, I'm not holding out a lot of hope.