Commentary

Revel in rivalry: UCLA vs. USC

Arash Markazi and Mark Saxon offer impressions on the battle for the Victory Bell

Updated: November 27, 2013, 10:43 PM ET
By Arash Markazi and Mark Saxon | ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- For the second consecutive season, the USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins both enter Saturday's game ranked in the Top 25. But for the first time since the Pac-12 was formed, neither the Trojans nor the Bruins will win the South and play in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The national significance of Saturday's game was lost when Arizona State beat UCLA last week to clinch the South title.

But USC-UCLA still is important locally, as the Bruins are trying to win for the first time at the Coliseum since 1997 and beat the Trojans in consecutive rivalry games for the first time since 1998. Meanwhile, the Trojans are trying to finish the season with 10 wins and possibly put Ed Orgeron in position to become the full-time coach at USC.

We asked our ESPNLosAngeles.com writers to discuss it over email before kickoff:

[+] EnlargeChris Markey
AP Photo/Chris CarlsonThe Bruins and Trojans are evenly matched this time around, so unlike the the 2006 contest that saw UCLA win 13-9, there will not be an upset.
From: Arash Markazi

To: Mark Saxon

Subject: Momentum

Mark, around this time last month USC was 4-3, unranked and playing under a new coach after Lane Kiffin was fired. Meanwhile, UCLA was 5-1, ranked in the top 10 and Jim Mora was being credited with changing the culture in Westwood. Fast forward a few weeks and USC is 9-3, UCLA is 8-3 and both are ranked in the Top 25. Momentum, however, seems to be on USC's side since Orgeron took over. I see USC winning this game largely because of that momentum. USC just seems to be riding this wave of emotion since Orgeron became the coach, and I don't see it crashing this week. How big of a factor is momentum in this game?

From: Mark Saxon

To: Arash Markazi

Subject: RE: Momentum

I think it's negligible, honestly. Let's not forget who UCLA was losing to lately -- the cream of the Pac-12 crop, including road games at Stanford and Oregon. What USC's turnaround has done is set this game up as a potential classic. The teams are as evenly matched as I can remember in many years. Often you see one side playing the spoiler, à la UCLA's 13-9 game in 2006, but this one is really about pure rivalry. Who really cares whether you play in the Fight Hunger Bowl, the Sun Bowl or the Vegas Bowl? Whoever wins this game gets a nice push heading into 2014, when both teams will have sky-high hopes.

From: Arash Markazi

To: Mark Saxon

Subject: Coach O

[+] EnlargeEd Orgeron
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA win for Ed Orgeron could put him in the driver's seat for a permanent head coaching position with the Trojans.

Speaking of momentum and Orgeron, I think this game will decide whether Orgeron is USC's coach next season. I know that sounds ridiculous, but if USC goes 7-1 under Orgeron and is two missed field goals in South Bend away from beating Notre Dame and being 8-0, it will be hard for Pat Haden to show Orgeron the door. He'd be putting the next coach in a tough position, since most of the fan base and alumni want Orgeron to be the coach. And if he's not, he will likely leave and will be in position to take a head coaching job at a smaller school. I'm not saying Orgeron is the long-term answer, but he is probably the only answer in the short term if USC wins. Do you think this game decides Orgeron's fate and should he get the job?

From: Mark Saxon

To: Arash Markazi

Subject: RE: Coach O

People are saying and writing that. I like Ed Orgeron and think he's a good coach, but personally I don't think a strong eight games will guarantee him one of the best coaching jobs in all of sports. A lot of coaches will be intrigued by the chance to make a ton of money, recruit some of the best players in the country and be part of one of the country's greatest football traditions. Pat Haden is a thoughtful, fair guy and I think he'll give Ed a lot of consideration, but I would be surprised if he would let this run compel him to do anything other than hire the No. 1 candidate for the job. I'm not saying that's not Ed, but let's see how it plays out before rushing to judgment.

From: Arash Markazi

To: Mark Saxon

Subject: Mora

There's been a lot of talk about Orgeron, but Jim Mora has done a good job of turning around the culture at UCLA. Well, it at least looks that way. If UCLA loses to USC and finishes the regular season with two losses and out of the Top 25 and ends up in, for example, the Fight Hunger Bowl, can Mora and UCLA really look at this season as a success and a step in the right direction? I don't see how that's possible.

From: Mark Saxon

To: Arash Markazi

Subject: RE: Mora

Maybe you're right and that's how UCLA fans are thinking, but, if so, they need to get a little perspective. He's been UCLA's most successful coach since some of Bob Toledo's early years, and that was 15 years ago now. UCLA is a tougher job than most people think. You're right, the bowl games aren't exciting. But if UCLA manages that comeback against Arizona State, everything would feel different. It seems to me Mora does have things moving in a good direction.

From: Arash Markazi

To: Mark Saxon

Subject: Rivalry

Brett Hundley called USC-UCLA just another game this week. I'm sure he was just repeating a cliché he has uttered all season. But do you think Saturday's game has lost any luster because there is nothing more at stake than bragging rights and the Victory Bell? Call me crazy, but I think that's all you need. This is still the best rivalry in college sports in my book.

From: Mark Saxon

To: Arash Markazi

Subject: RE: Rivalry

I hear players in other sports making those utterances all the time. I just ignore them. Every time I've ever been around a USC-UCLA game -- and you've been to way more than I have -- it hasn't been hard to pick up on the hostility the teams feel for one another. So many of these guys know each other. The fans fuel it all game long. I can't compare it to Alabama-Auburn or Michigan-Ohio State because I've never been to those games, but it seems pretty vibrant to me.

From: Arash Markazi

To: Mark Saxon

Subject: Pick

OK, I hate to put you on the spot Mark, but let's make our predictions. I think momentum is on USC: The Coliseum will be sold out and the players know they can basically seal Orgeron's job as the coach with the win. I'm going USC 24, UCLA 20. What say you?

From: Mark Saxon

To: Arash Markazi

Subject: RE: Pick

Man, I hate this part. To me, the biggest factor is the Coliseum. You wouldn't think it would be that big a deal, but the fact is UCLA hasn't beaten the Trojans there since 1997. I agree that USC has a slight motivation edge: USC 38, UCLA 32.

Arash Markazi

ESPNLosAngeles.com

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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