The Game Of The Week - USC vs. UCLA
Posted Nov 14, 2012

Week 12 Fearless Prediction & Game Preview - USC at UCLA

USC (7-3) at UCLA (8-2) Nov. 17, 3:00, Fox

Here’s The Deal: UCLA has caught up to cross-town rival USC practically overnight. And every fan of this series will be a beneficiary this weekend.

It’s been a very long time since the battle for the Victory Bell mattered to both schools for reasons beyond just bragging rights in Los Angeles. USC has dominated, winning the last five meetings and 12-of-13, while also mattering on the national landscape. But here come the Bruins.

Poorly coached by recent staffs, first-year leader Jim Mora has been brilliant so far in Westwood. He’s stripped down the program, cast aside old habits and instantly turned this team into a winner. UCLA is ranked, rolling to four wins in a row and prepping for a winner-take-all tilt for the Pac-12 South Division. This season is a success in Westwood no matter what, but if the Bruins capture the South with a win over the Trojans, their blueprint for long-term success in the league goes into instant hyperdrive.

USC has a chance to save a little face this Saturday. Troy has been a huge disappointment in 2012, going from a preseason BCS National Championship favorite to the periphery of the Top 25. The Trojans have built their record on the backs of average foes, falling short when facing Stanford, Arizona and Oregon. Hope for a turnaround, though, comes from a back-ended schedule steeped in high-profile games.

UCLA. Notre Dame. Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship Game? The opportunities are there for USC to rescue the season and change the headline on 2012. The Trojans—and head coach Lane Kiffin—are going to be defined by how they finish, beginning with this weekend’s highly-anticipated, high stakes trip to the Rose Bowl.

Why USC Might Win: The Trojans can pile up points about as fast as anyone this side of Autzen Stadium.

In a huge rivalry, it’s a huge bonus to have the veteran under center, the guy who has seen and done it all. Check, with Matt Barkley. Troy is also home to the best pair of receivers in America, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, who are going to be a handful for UCLA’s 103rd-ranked pass defense. For good measure, likely 1,000-yard rusher Silas Redd is expected back after missing last week’s game, and USC is flush with gifted, pass-catching tight ends.

When the Bruins have exposed cracks this season, the defensive backs were getting beat over the top by the likes of Sean Mannion, Zach Maynard, Taylor Kelly and even Connor Halliday a week ago. The trio of Barkley, Lee and Woods is easily the best that corners Aaron Hester and Sheldon Price have seen this season.

Why UCLA Might Win: USC’s defense still hasn’t figured out a way to stop versatile spread offenses piloted by dual-threat quarterbacks. You know, like the one it’ll see this weekend in the Rose Bowl.

The Trojans house plenty of individual talent, but the product on the field has been eminently beatable. Yielding 101 combined points in back-to-back losses to Arizona and Oregon spoke volumes about the group’s vulnerabilities. The Bruins will attack their rival with a dynamic backfield comprised of RB Johnathan Franklin and QB Brett Hundley.

Franklin ranks No. 6 nationally in rushing, a legit workhorse who’ll double as a safety valve in the passing game. Hundley has been revelatory in his first season as the starter. Of course he doesn’t possess Barkley’s reps, but his play has exceeded all expectations, running for six scores and ranking 17th nationally in passing efficiency. Hundley’s receivers are middling, so he’ll continue to look for 6-8 TE Joseph Fauria, who has pulled down nine touchdown passes this season.

What To Watch Out For: USC and UCLA are tied for No. 4 nationally in sacks. Who’ll break the tie this weekend?

The Bruins like to attack for coordinator Lou Spanos, selling out of necessary to rattle opposing quarterbacks. Anthony Barr has been a find at outside linebacker, while Datone Jones, Cassius Marsh and Damien Holmes have applied pressure from their positions on the defensive line. Blitzes might not be an option for a defense that’s going to need all of the help it can get in the back seven.

The Trojans are being led by a pair of newcomers at defensive end, true freshman Leonard Williams and JUCO transfer Morgan Breslin, who’ve combined for 26 tackles for loss. If there’s an edge, it belongs to USC because of the play of its Khaled Holmes-led offensive line. Troy leads the Pac-12 in sacks allowed. UCLA, on the other hand, ranks 107th nationally, a major worry heading into this week’s matchup.

What Will Happen: USC has disappointed. UCLA has surprised. Those trends will continue this week at the Rose Bowl.

The Trojans are not a very good team, at least in terms of where the bar was set three months ago. They’re highly vulnerable on defense, and about to face an extremely motivated and inspired team. The Bruins have been waiting for this opportunity for many years, a chance to show the world that they’ve caught up to their hated rivals. Hundley won’t look anything close to a rookie, while Franklin will conduct himself like a Heisman contender, accounting for more than 200 yards against the USC defense. Barkley will battle, as he always does, but he’ll also take a bunch of hits, like he did earlier in the year against Stanford.

The Bruins are not going to be denied this Saturday, outcoaching and outhustling the Trojans en route to a breakthrough second straight appearance in the Pac-12 title game.

CFN Prediction: UCLA 38 … USC 30
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) USC -3.5 O/U: 65
Must Watch Rating (5 – Killing Them Softly, 1 – The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2): 5