Heading into the USC-UCLA game, neither team’s record is supposed to matter.
For the Trojans, that should be comforting.
At 7-5, the Trojans likely wish they could forget their record along with the many moments they fell short this season. They don’t want to make Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game at the Rose Bowl another one.
“It’s a must-win game for us, hands down,” said senior cornerback Shareece Wright. “We got to go out and get that victory. We can’t leave that stadium without a win.”
UCLA has had more than its share of troubles as well. The Bruins (4-7) are coming off two lopsided losses to Washington and Arizona State. After starting 3-2 and beating two ranked teams in consecutive games, UCLA’s season took a turn for the worst.
The Bruins’ lone win in their last six games, however, did come over Oregon State, the same team that dominated the Trojans 36-7 a few weeks ago.
USC, which seemed a lock to win 10 games before playing the Beavers, is trying to avoid ending the season on a three-game losing streak. The Trojans are also in need of a morale boost after a devastating loss to Notre Dame last week.
The status of sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who did not play against the Fighting Irish because of a high-ankle sprain, is still in question. USC coach Lane Kiffin said at one point this week that Barkley would definitely play, but later backed away from that statement.
Barkley, whose participation was limited in Wednesday’s practice, said the status of his ankle has been improving daily.
“Hopefully it stays at this rate every day and three days from now it will be three times better,” Barkley said.
Backup senior quarterback Mitch Mustain made his first start of his USC career last week, completing 21-of-38 passes for 183 yards and one interception. Mustain nearly led the Trojans to a comeback, but his effort was derailed by dropped passes.
As for who will start Saturday, Kiffin is still leaning toward Barkley.
“[Matt] continues to look better every day,” Kiffin said. “He’s throwing the ball fine and his movement is coming around, so I would anticipate him playing.”
Beating UCLA might not salvage USC’s season, but losing would be unthinkable, senior cornerback Shareece Wright said.
“We definitely can’t afford that as a program to lose both to Notre Dame and UCLA in the same year,” said Wright.
Added Barkley: “Our season’s at stake, our offseason’s at stake, the pride of this school is at stake.”
Wright, who will look to enter the NFL draft next year, said a win over USC’s crosstown rival would help the program move forward going into next season.
“Just to carry it on to next season and keep the momentum going and end on a winning note and start off on a winning note next season for these young guys,” Wright said. “It’s going to be real important for them.”