USC vs. UCLA: 5 Reasons the Bruins Could Pull the Upset
The No. 17 UCLA Bruins (8-2, 5-2) will face off against the No. 18 USC Trojans (7-3, 5-3) this Saturday at the Rose Bowl, with the victor claiming the Pac-12 South Division and a trip to the conference championship game.
Despite being the home team, boasting a higher ranking in the polls (BCS, AP and Coaches) and holding a half-game lead over their hated rivals, the Bruins come in as three-point underdogs against the Trojans.
It's not very often you see a betting line like this, but that just shows how important this game is for the perception of UCLA football.
Until the Bruins can best 'SC and paint the Victory Bell blue, the college football world will write them off as nothing more than little brother in Los Angeles.
Southern Cal has completely dominated the annual crosstown showdown for years, as the Trojans have won 12 of the last 13 meetings between the squads.
But if there were a season for UCLA to turn the tide, 2012 looks to be it.
The Bruins are riding a four-game winning streak and have found a future superstar in freshman QB Brett Hundley, while the Trojans have fallen from preseason No. 1 to a three-loss Rose Bowl long shot.
It won't be easy, but UCLA has a very real chance to upend the Men of Troy and take control of football in the Southland.
Here are five reasons why the Bruins could pull the upset and knock off USC.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Despite the fact that USC holds the edge in Rose Bowl Game victories (24-7), the historic Pasadena landmark belongs to UCLA during the regular season.
At home in 2012, the Bruins have been nearly flawless, compiling a 4-1 record, including wins over Nebraska and a ranked Arizona squad.
The only loss came at the hands of now-No. 16 Oregon State, a one-possession defeat that many would argue the Bruins let slip away.
Couple that with the fact that the Trojans have lumbered to a 2-2 record on the road, and it's clear that UCLA will benefit from playing host this year.
It's also important to note that the UCLA athletics department has done everything in its power to limit the Trojans' presence at the Rose Bowl.
By banning the USC pregame ritual of stabbing the midfield logo, UCLA hopes to quell the emotion of what figures to be a large Trojan following.
If the Cardinal and Gold portion of the 92,000-plus sellout crowd ramps up the energy, it could diminish the Bruins' home-field advantage.
But if the True Blue fans stay focused and committed to cheering their team to victory, the Rose Bowl should be rocking.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Another reason to jump on the Bruin bandwagon is the phenomenal coaching that first-year skipper Jim L. Mora and his veteran staff have exhibited so far in 2012.
Mora and Co. have taken a group of players that is relatively unchanged from the Neuheisel era and turned out the best record for UCLA football since 2005.
One could point to the play of Brett Hundley and the emergence of Johnathan Franklin as key components to that success, but that's only part of the story.
Mora has done an amazing job rearranging the talent that he has and choosing schemes that better fit the personnel already in Westwood.
Switching to a spread offense was brilliant, as Hundley's dual-threat capabilities are perfectly suited for the high-speed attack. And employing a 3-4 scheme on defense utilizes UCLA's deep stable of linebackers to its fullest potential.
When you compare the unexpected success of the Bruins with the shocking underachievement of USC's NFL-caliber roster, it's glaring how big of an edge UCLA has in coaching.
All together, Mora's staff represents over 90 years of NFL experience, which automatically provides credibility on the recruiting trail and in the locker room.
Mora was head coach of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks, while defensive coordinator Lou Spanos coached the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowls with suffocating defense.
Offensive line coach Adrian Klemm has three Super Bowl rings from his time playing with the New England Patriots, and has really turned a young O-line into a very promising unit.
But NFL experience isn't the only thing going for Mora's staff, as the crew also has very deep Pac-12 ties, which helps tremendously in the living rooms of prospects and on the playing field.
Offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone coached at Arizona State along with RB coach Steve Broussard, while Demetrice Martin and Marques Tuiasosopo have history with the University of Washington.
And throw in wideout coach Eric Yarber, who had stints with UW, ASU and Oregon State just for good measure.
Jim Mora has been a godsend for the UCLA football program, assembling a killer staff to go with an attitude of accountability and hard work.
For that reason, the Bruins have a leg up on the Trojans in the coaching department, which is especially important in a rivalry game atmosphere.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Led by QB Brett Hundley and RB Johnathan Franklin, the Bruins run a high-powered, no-huddle offensive attack that balances the run and the pass to perfection.
Through 10 games this season, UCLA boasts the No. 24 rushing offense and the No. 31 passing offense in the country.
Despite his freshman standing, Hundley has established himself as one of the best Bruin quarterbacks in decades, powering his way to 2,739 yards passing and 24 touchdowns on 69 percent completion.
But he has also gotten it done with his legs, amassing 272 yards and six TDs by way of the scramble, earning the well-deserved distinction of a dual threat.
Right alongside Hundley has been Franklin, a redshirt senior scat back that burst onto the national stage in 2012.
Franklin has rumbled for 1,270 yards and eight TDs, which nicely complements UCLA's potent passing threat.
As of Week 11, "Jet Ski" ranks No. 8 in the nation in rushing yards despite having the fewest touches of any running back in the top 10.
But Hundley and Franklin aren't the only contributors, as 17 different Bruins have caught a pass this season, including two defensive ends.
Of those 17 receivers, 12 have hauled in a touchdown pass, while 10 have tallied at least 100 yards through the air.
That kind of offensive multiplicity could be what carries UCLA to victory, especially in light of the way the Trojans' defense has struggled with spread attacks in 2012.
The Bruins have an expansive playbook that doesn't overemphasize any one component of their offensive game plan.
If the 'SC defense keys in on the run, the Bruins can go to the deep ball. If they can't get it done vertically, UCLA can stretch it out wide on screens and swing passes.
And if you mix in some zone reads and a little play action, the Trojan defenders could be in for some serious headaches.
DE Owamagbe Odighizuwa is emerging as a monster in the trenches.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Everyone remembers the 50-0 embarrassment from 2011, when QB Matt Barkley went off for 423 yards passing and six touchdowns.
Essentially, UCLA didn't play any defense in that game.
But this is a totally different Bruins' squad, led by a defensive front that improved from No. 113 in sacks last season to No. 4 in the nation in 2012.
UCLA's defense also ranks No. 7 in the country in tackles for loss and No. 11 in fumbles recovered.
Talk about some marked progress along the D-line.
Senior DE Datone Jones has come on strong in his final year of NCAA football, racking up 39 tackles and three sacks to bolster the starting lineup.
Opposite Jones in the other end position is Cassius Marsh. The 6'3", 275-pound junior has been a monster in the backfield, tallying 6.5 sacks to go with his 37 total stops.
But the most impressive pass-rush fiend this year has been LB Anthony Barr, a junior who is playing his first season on the defensive side of the ball.
Barr has recorded 54 total tackles, 11 of which were sacks, which is good enough for No. 4 in the country. Barr has shown incredible athleticism blitzing from the second level, but his pursuit of the ball-carrier after the play breaks down is what has been most impressive.
If Barr continues to develop at the exponential rate he has under DC Lou Spanos, expect to see him suiting up on Sundays pretty soon.
The pass rush could be the biggest reason to buy into UCLA this weekend, as Matt Barkley and the Trojan offense have been exposed by premier defensive fronts this year.
Barkley has shown very little ability to move in the pocket and prolong plays, so the Bruins figure to hit him early and often to shake his confidence.
If the USC offensive line can't pick up the pressure, it could be a very long day for Lane Kiffin and the Trojans.
Big Joe Fauria
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
When I was trying to decide which single player to highlight as the Bruins' biggest advantage, it seemed logical to pick Hundley, Franklin or any of the beasts along the D-Line.
But after much deliberation, the obvious choice here is 6'7", 255-pound receiver, Joseph Fauria.
Big Joe is a mismatch nightmare that has single-handedly raised the blood pressure of every opposing defensive coordinator this season. Fauria is an especially important target in the red zone, where he can climb the ladder and fight shorter players for the ball.
Fauria, a former Notre Dame transfer, has hauled in 31 passes for 417 yards, which averages out to a solid 13.5 yards per catch. He also leads all UCLA receivers with nine touchdown grabs, a number he will certainly be looking to improve upon over the next few games.
Because the Trojans' tallest starting defensive back stands at 6'3" (safety T.J. McDonald), Fauria figures to have the same kind of jump-ball dominance that he has exhibited all year.
If Big Joe can find his mojo on Saturday, Monte Kiffin might need to start looking for a retirement home.