(21) USC (7-3) at (17) UCLA (8-2) (ET)
GAME NOTES: Crosstown rivals collide in Pasadena, as the 21st-ranked USC Trojans take on the 17th-ranked UCLA Bruins in a crucial Pac-12 South matchup at the Rose Bowl.
Jim Mora has turned UCLA around in a hurry. The Bruins have won four straight games to move to 8-2 overall and into first place in the Pac-12 South at 5-2, a half game ahead of the Trojans. UCLA has used a lethal offensive attack for much of the season, including last week's 44-36 victory at Washington State.
While not the most impressive win of the season, Mora was pleased nonetheless.
"We are 8-2," Mora said. "We won a game in difficult conditions. That bodes well for UCLA football."
Lane Kiffin knows a thing or two about offensive proficiency, as his Trojans are among the nation's most explosive units. The team lost a pair of shootouts to close out October (39-36 loss at Arizona) and to open up play in November (62-51 loss to Oregon), but found their way back in the win column last weekend with a 38-17 win over Arizona State.
The winner of this game takes the Pac-12 South and will represent the division in the Pac-12 Championship Game. This is the 82nd meeting in this historic rivalry, with the Trojans holding a 46-28-7 series advantage. USC has won the last five meetings and 12 of the last 13, overall.
A star-studded offense leads the way for USC, with All-Americans at the quarterback and wide receiver positions. The result is a juggernaut that is putting up 462.9 yards of offense per game.
It starts with senior QB Matt Barkley, who continues to rewrite the record books at USC. Barkley may not be in the Heisman race, but has still put up impressive numbers, completing 64.8 percent of his passes, for 2,972 yards, with 33 touchdowns.
Sophomore Marqise Lee is not only a Biletnikoff semifinalist, but the odds on favorite to win the award. He has already amassed 98 receptions, for 1,447 yards and 13 TDs on the year. On any other team, All-American Robert Woods would be the go-to-guy, as he has hauled in 61 balls, for 653 yards and 10 TDs.
The ground attack takes a backseat to the passing game, but USC has a pair of capable backs in Silas Redd (732 yards, 5.4 ypc, nine TDs) and Curtis McNeal (497 yards, 6.0 ypc, two TDs).
The USC defense has had its moments this season, just not enough of them. The Trojans have been particularly vulnerable to some of the conference's top offenses and are allowing a generous 390.8 yards per game. The squad has made more than its fair share of big plays, recording 37 sacks and 28 forced turnovers to date.
All-American candidate T.J. McDonald (team-high 83 tackles, two INTs) patrols the secondary. Sophomores Hayes Pullard (67 tackles, two sacks, one INT) and Dion Bailey (63 tackles, four INTs) are active linebackers with a nose for the ball. Up front, the Trojans are getting great production from Morgan Breslin (32 tackles, 15.5 TFLs, 9.5 sacks), Leonard Williams (32 tackles, 10.5 TFLs, 6.5 sacks) and Wes Horton (28 tackles, 6.0 TFLs, 5.0 sacks).
The Bruins will put the USC defense through its paces, as UCLA comes in with a balanced attack that has found it easy to move the football both on the ground (210.9 ypg) and through the air (285.9 ypg).
Freshman quarterback Brett Hundley has probably exceeded all expectations in his first season under center, completing almost 70 percent of his passes, for 2,739 yards, with 24 TDs against nine INTs. The team doesn't have a one-two punch on the outside like USC, but wideout Shaquelle Evans (39 receptions, 571 yards, two TDs) and tight end Joseph Fauria (31 receptions, 417 yards, nine TDs) have certainly made their share of plays.
The passing game is enhanced by the rushing exploits of senior tailback Johnathan Franklin, who ranks sixth nationally in rushing at 127.0 yards per game. Franklin has rushed for 1,270 yards (6.4 ypc) this season and eight TDs. Hundley has had a nose for the end zone as well, scoring six times on the ground.
The Bruins have had their ups and downs defensively this season, allowing a generous 411.0 yards per game overall. The unit has been particularly vulnerable to the pass, giving up 266.4 yards per game through the air.
Sophomore linebacker Eric Kendricks (101 stops) has been a tackling machine this season, leading the Pac-12 in tackles (10.2 per game). Junior linebacker Anthony Barr is in his first season on the defensive side of the ball and has been a monster with his upfield pursuit, ranking among the nation's best in TFLs (17.0) and sacks (11.0).
The Bruins certainly have the kind of offense that can give any team trouble. The Trojans will reciprocate with Barkley, Lee and company. This one could be a track meet and while that would usually favor the Trojans, the Bruins, behind Franklin's ground and pound, may earn the big win and spot in the Pac-12 title game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UCLA 37, USC 35