Thursday, April 18, 2013
Most important game: USC
By Kevin Gemmell
Every game counts. But some games count more. Or tell us more.
We're going through the Pac-12 and picking out one game that seems most important -- or potentially most revealing -- for each team from our vantage point today.
And then we'll let you vote from a list of potential options.
We're going in reverse alphabetical order.
Most important game: Nov. 30 vs. UCLA
Why it's important: It's common political strategy that when things start to sour for a public servant, their best option is to refocus, re-energize and rally their base -- the folks that believed in them all along.
Right now, USC needs to rally its base. And the quickest way to do that is to beat UCLA.
The Trojans had it pretty good there for a while. Top-rated recruiting classes. Five straight wins over the Bruins and 12 out of 13. An endless smorgasbord of carrots, sweet feed and legumes for Traveler. Life was sweet.
Then Jim Mora and the new-look Bruins came along and blew the whole thing to Hades. The Bruins physically dominated the Trojans in their 38-28 win at the Rose Bowl last year. Johnathan Franklin rushed for 171 yards. They picked Matt Barkley twice before knocking him out for the rest of the season. On the podium after the game, Mora told the story of his players having a dance contest in the locker room after the win -- celebrating their Pac-12 South title at their rival's expense.
It doesn't appear that this is the tale of the blind squirrel, either. It was UCLA putting the Trojans on notice that things are going to get nasty in the annual battle for Los Angeles.
Time to rally the base.
The Bruins already locked up the best recruiting class in the league in 2013 and by virtue of their 5-0 mark against the South last year, the road to the Pac-12 championship game goes through Pasadena, by way of Westwood.
Picking UCLA as the most important game, on the surface, might seem like taking the easy way out. And in years past, it might have been. Not this year. The rivalry is reignited.
Of course, there are other games of importance. You could make a devil's-advocate-case for Stanford -- USC's proverbial one that keeps getting away. The Trojans have lost four straight to the Cardinal and five of their past six. The last three games have been decided by a last-second field goal, a triple-overtime fumble and a touchdown.
USC split with the Arizona schools last year. But the Sun Devils are trending up and are the favorite of many to win the division.
Notre Dame is also of great importance. It's the seventh game of a 13-game slate and it's on the road. A win in South Bend would do wonders for this team's confidence heading into the second half of the season. And while traditionally it would be a great win, it wouldn't rally the base the way a UCLA win would -- especially after what happened last year. Conversely, a loss to Notre Dame wouldn't be as demoralizing as a second straight loss to the Bruins.
All of the perks that go with being the premier football program in Los Angeles are up for grabs. Recruiting is chief among them. The Trojans are at a very sensitive juncture in the program's history and a power shift in Los Angeles would spell trouble.
The Bruins launched an all-out assault on USC's way of life in 2012. At question for the Trojans is whether it was just a hiccup, or a harbinger.