Justifiably, all eyes in the conference are on No. 2 Oregon.
Another national championship appearance for the Ducks would be the second in a row by a team outside the SEC, and Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said an Oregon win in the title game would be “a game changer.” (Granted, Scott was referring to a victory over Alabama or a similar SEC school, but a title’s a title.)
But as head coach Chip Kelly is wont to remind us, there’s still football to be played. This year’s second-annual conference championship has significant BCS ramifications. While the Ducks tangle with the Cardinal this weekend, one half of the Pac-12 title game will be decided in Los Angeles: The winner of this week’s game between N0. 18 USC and No. 17 UCLA will earn a trip to the conference championship.
Oregon fans may warm their hands on the heat coming off the Ducks’ rivalry with the Beavers, but that’s a candle compared to the blaze raging between the USC Trojans and the UCLA Bruins.
Last season, the Trojans embarrassed the Bruins 50-0 — and yet it was the Bruins who advanced to the Pac-12 Championship due to USC’s NCAA sanctions. In Rick Neuheisel’s last game as UCLA’s head coach, the Ducks blew past the Bruins to advance to the Rose Bowl.
New UCLA coach Jim Mora has instilled a toughness and offensive mindset that’s been wildly effective in his first year as head coach. During their last four games, the Bruins have averaged 44 points per game, second in the conference to only Oregon’s 58.5 over the same span.
Mora has also been unafraid to talk some trash. His comment about UCLA’s L.A. recruiting advantage over USC — “We don’t have murders a block from our campus” — garnered national attention and stoked the flames of the rivalry.
Over the past 81 meetings between the crosstown rivals, the Trojans hold a 46-28-7 series advantage. Not to mention, USC has won the last five meetings and 12 of the last 13.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin boasts an offense of tremendous talent; Ducks fans saw that during Oregon’s 62-51 win two weekends ago. Marqise Lee is a Heisman candidate and the odd-on winner of the Biletnikoff Award, given annually to the nation’s best wide receiver, and Matt Barkley is still an All-American quarterback.
While it’s difficult to see how this one plays out, expect an emotional, physical game. Oregon fans wary of another matchup with USC may pull for UCLA, but as has been the case all year, the Bruins might just be better than anyone expected.