Flip Week: UCLA/USC

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
9:30
AM ET
Editor's note: During Week 12, 10 ESPN.com reporters changed conferences to experience college football in unfamiliar territory. Here is what they learned from the experience.

I was admittedly dreading the freeway traffic. But after just a couple of days in Los Angeles, I was already used to it, whether I was crawling along on the 405 or the 110.

See, I even sound now like I've been in Hollywood all my life. Not really, though.

My junket out West was a blast. I’d been to Los Angeles a few other times, but being able to soak in a Pac-12 doubleheader -- UCLA-Washington on Friday and Stanford-USC on Saturday -- was a treat.

[+] EnlargeAl Bautista
Chris LowAl Bautista (No. 4) hosts one of the better tailgates at USC.
Both the Rose Bowl and Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum should be on your bucket list if you’re truly a college football junkie. I guess everything’s a little more laid-back in California, and perhaps that’s a stereotype, but what struck me the most was the unique blend of energy, warmth and knowledge of both the UCLA and USC fans.

The sheer beauty of the UCLA campus was equally stunning. It was like a postcard, although I don’t envy the students having to get from Westwood to Pasadena on game days. Shuttles are available to take them, but it’s a dramatically different dynamic than students at Auburn or LSU merely strolling across campus on fall Saturdays.

There are countless contrasts when you start comparing the world of college football in the SEC with the world of college football in Los Angeles.

For instance, they were filming an episode of the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation” not far from my hotel in Pasadena the day before the UCLA-Washington game. In the SEC, they’re usually filming statues the day before games, as in statues of Bear Bryant and Nick Saban in Alabama’s Walk of Champions.

Being a part of the mob scene on the field at The Coliseum following USC's upset over Stanford was something I won’t soon forget. I was standing just outside the left upright when Andre Heidari kicked his game-winning, 47-yard field goal and could tell the kick was going to be good the whole way.

A couple weeks later, after taking in the Clemson-South Carolina game in Columbia, S.C., I couldn't help but wonder how many people saw both “USCs” play this season on the two different coasts. I know I’ll catch grief from my Trojan pals for referring to South Carolina as “USC,” but cut me a break. I grew up in South Carolina.

Here are some highlights from a truly memorable trip. Can’t wait to get back out there for the VIZIO BCS National Championship in a few weeks:

Best meal: The chimichanguitas at Mijares Mexican Restaurant in Pasadena were the best I've ever eaten … by far. They're mini-chimichangas that are flaky enough on the outside that it's almost as though you're eating homemade biscuits. And if you're really hungry or share the chimichanguitas with somebody else, you can follow them up with the shrimp and lobster enchiladas at the family-owned restaurant that's been a staple in Pasadena since 1920.

Must-see sight: Driving down Sunset Boulevard past the famed Beverly Hills Hotel (you can get a room for just south of $700 a night) and then kicking it in Hollywood for a few hours. You never know what celebrities you might run into. One of the most gorgeous sights you're ever going to lay eyes on are the San Gabriel Mountains hovering in the distance at the Rose Bowl. Also, seeing the USC Trojan Band come marching through campus to the The Coliseum was awesome. The coolest part was seeing some of the USC fans sneaking the band members beers as they marched by. Tubas are a great place to hide those beers, by the way.

Biggest surprise: The tailgating, particularly at The Coliseum prior to the Stanford-USC game, was every bit as elaborate as anything you'll find in the SEC. You're talking about everything from homemade salads and shrimp dishes, to huge, big-screen televisions to watch the other games, to fans arriving at the games as early as 6 o'clock in the morning.

Biggest difference from the SEC: Fans were definitely fired up and passionate, but I didn't sense some of the nastiness you encounter at some of the SEC stadiums between rival fans. In other words, I didn't see any fights.

They said it: "I didn't know they played football in the SEC, or at least, played anybody that was any good." -- USC fan Michele Brown of Huntington Beach, Calif.

If I could go back: I'd figure out a way to buy one of those palatial homes in the Pasadena neighborhood you go through to get to the Rose Bowl. I'd also figure out a way to tailgate a little longer with some of the best people you're ever going to meet -- Jenny Bailey, Justin Bailey, Al Bautista, Angel Bautista, Andrew Biren, Justin Biren, Michele Brown, Benny Castro, Steven Doria, Ryan Draizin, Juan Duran, Daniel Fogelson, Spencer Sloan, Pat West and Lori Zavala.

Chris Low | email

College Football

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