Crosstown rivalry thrives in the spotlight

With one week remaining in the regular season, the participants for the 2013 Pac-12 championship game have been determined — and neither the Bruins nor the Trojans made the cut. Stanford and Arizona State will do battle with a berth to the 100th Rose Bowl Game.

Unlike last season, this year’s rendition of the Battle for Los Angeles will have no implications on each team’s Rose Bowl hopes, but that doesn’t mean that the game will lack in meaning. The crosstown showdown between the two schools has ramped up in intensity in recent years, setting up what should be yet another classic matchup in what has been one of college football’s most storied rivalries.

After UCLA’s 38-28 win over USC last season, many fans and analysts saw the Bruins’ reclaiming of the Victory Bell as a changing of the guard. The loss continued the Trojans’ downward spiral that led to a well-publicized 7-6 final record, complete with an alleged post-Sun Bowl brawl and a mass exodus of previously committed recruits, some of whom ended up enrolling at UCLA. Following the defeat, the balance of power had shifted toward Westwood, many believed, and those in powder blue and gold took the opportunity to bask in their newfound success.

“We’re able to compete with them,” UCLA offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo said about USC in the preseason. “We’re able to play them and look forward to that game. Being able to get that win against them last year was great, and it was huge for our program.”

Fairly tame comments, to be sure, but Su’a-Filo’s remarks were indicative that the mystique that USC had accrued after winning 12 out of 13 matchups from 1999 to 2011 had faded. But following the Trojans’ slow start this season that included an embarrassing 10-7 loss at home against Washington State, the chirping from across town heated up.

“Knowing that we’re going to beat them again this year … Especially two years ago when they beat us 50-0. We owe them a little bit,” UCLA wide receiver Shaquelle Evans told ESPN 710 AM in September. “This year, we’re going to try to embarrass them, honestly. They’re struggling, it’s just awesome to see that. I hate them, so I’m just loving it. I’ve always hated them.”

Evans’ comments are part of why the rivalry between USC and UCLA is, in my opinion, the best rivalry in college sports. I realize that the word “best” as it applies to comparing rivalries is extremely subjective, so I’ll do my best to defend this position.

To my knowledge, it’s the only rivalry in which two schools share a city, and I can’t think of any two schools that are closer than the 14 miles that separate USC and UCLA. Unlike other high-profile rivalries, such as Duke-North Carolina in basketball and Auburn-Alabama in football, the rivalry applies to all sports, not just one. The fight for supremacy in Los Angeles is truly a year-round event.

During my lifetime, the rivalry has churned out truly memorable moments, despite being completely one-sided in favor of USC. The Trojans’ 27-0 domination of the Bruins in 2001 heralded the beginning of former USC coach Pete Carroll’s dynasty. In 2005, USC beat UCLA 66-19 in a game that was even more lopsided than the score indicates. The Bruins kept the Trojans from playing in the national championship game in 2006 with a memorable 13-9 win at the Rose Bowl, and as Evans’ comments suggest, few have forgotten USC’s 50-0 dismantling of UCLA in 2011.

Which brings us to this season. As mentioned, nothing will be decided on Saturday except which color the Victory Bell will be painted for the next 365 days, but in a rivalry as storied and intense as this one, that’s really all that needs to be said to pique people’s interest. The game has enough hype around it that it was selected for the primetime 5 p.m. slot on ABC, and as of the writing of this column, the cheapest ticket available for purchase on StubHub was $110. The Coliseum is expected to be sold out for the second consecutive game, ensuring that the atmosphere will be fitting for a game of this magnitude.

In the days leading up to USC’s upset over Stanford, the popular opinion among students was that Stanford, who had defeated USC in four consecutive seasons, was the team that the Trojan faithful really wanted to beat. Many saw the Cardinal as USC’s most-hated rival, an opinion that could be defended by referencing the fans’ storming of the field after the upset was complete.

But as a native Southern Californian who has grown up immersed in the USC-UCLA rivalry, I can say with great confidence that this is not the case. Evans’ comments got a rise out of USC fans, but the reality is that he was simply saying what anyone else would say (if they were being honest). The Trojan Marching Band doesn’t play a song dedicated to insulting Stanford, and I’m guessing that it won’t be adding one anytime soon.

Because if you’re a Trojan, no matter what team USC plays, you’re always ready to chant “UCLA sucks” at the top of your lungs — which is why, no matter the teams’ records, the game will always be meaningful in the Southland.


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