LOS ANGELES -- Playing against USC with the Pac-12 South division title on the line is an indication UCLA has made progress in its pursuit of USC's football dominance in Los Angeles, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said Monday during his weekly news conference.
"We have closed the gap more with SC," Neuheisel said. "We've got a chance to win the championship, that's closing the gap. We didn't have that chance in years past."
USC has been light years ahead of UCLA for the better part of the last decade, emerging as a national power by winning and contending for conference and national championships while UCLA has struggled to make second-tier bowl games.
When Neuheisel took over in 2008, one of his main directives was to narrow the gap between the programs and make UCLA competitive with the Trojans. UCLA (6-5, 5-3) meets USC (9-2, 6-2) Saturday at the Coliseum with first place in the Pac-12 South at stake.
The Bruins would advance to the Pac-12 title game with a win. USC is not eligible for the postseason because of NCAA sanctions and therefore would not advance but could still win the division.
"Now we get to line up against them again so we'll see where the gap is after the ball game, but the gap has closed," Neuheisel said. "We're much closer to them then we were when I first got here. I don't know that it's all the way done, we'll talk after the ball game."
Running back Johnathan Franklin said that if the talk after the game is not about how UCLA beat USC, then the Bruins still haven't reached the point they want to as a program.
"It's vital," Franklin said. "We've been talking about turning this program around and taking it to the top. If we can beat USC it gives us that stepping stone that we need to overcome. We haven't beaten them in four or five years. We have to win."
Peter Yoon covers UCLA for ESPNLosAngeles.com.