Matthew Moreno | USC 34, UCLA 24
Riding a five-game winning streak, USC enters the game with the momentum. UCLA is scuttling a bit with 3-3 record in their last six games. Granted, the three losses have come against the upper echelon of the conference.
It’s almost a complete reversal from how both teams were playing heading into last year’s matchup. That being said, really nothing would surprise me in this game.
I expect the Trojan defensive line to get pressure on Brett Hundley and force him into hurried decisions. I also anticipate the Bruins to employ a similar strategy.
Cody Kessler has played well, particularly in November, but this is likely going to be the most emotionally charged game he’s played in thus far. He’ll need to remain even-keeled and play within himself, like he’s done so successfully.
With a stronger defensive performance than last year’s game, the Trojans will ride the momentum they’ve generated to get their 10th win of the season and look forward to going bowling, but hopefully not in El Paso, Texas.
Michael Castillo | USC 24, UCLA 23
Going into the game, there’s a lot to like for USC. The Trojans are winners of five straight and are getting healthy, while UCLA is coming off of a back-breaking loss to Arizona State and are battling injuries all over the field.
Those basic subplots, heightened by UCLA’s inability to protect quarterback Brett Hundley, make USC an attractive pick to knock off the 22nd-ranked Bruins.
But don’t expect this to be easy, and it could be the Trojans’ toughest test to date, facing a team that is nearly identical in so many ways.
The Bruins may still be reeling emotionally and physically from last week’s loss to ASU, but if there’s one area where Jim Mora’s been highly successful, it’s motivating his players. Don’t expect either team to be flat, with the amount of buzz this week in the media.
UCLA should test the Trojans on several fronts, including in the secondary, where the Trojans have struggled.
If Noel Mazzone’s offense can attack USC’s corners and force the Trojans to drop into the nickel with Dion Bailey, it’ll buy more time for Hundley and keep the Trojans’ pass rush honest, opening up holes for the run.
The Bruins will give SC plenty of different looks offensively, while Cody Kessler will face arguably the best linebacker corps in the Pac-12, if not the country.
USC will need to play mistake-free football to win and have to once again feed off the energy of the Coliseum. They just can’t afford a second half swoon, as was the case in the two physical wars thus far under Ed Orgeron: at Notre Dame and vs. Stanford.
This one will be close and come down to the final minute, in what should be a fantastic edition of this storied rivalry.
Alicia de Artola | USC 32, UCLA 24
This will not be an easy game for USC, but the Trojans have home field advantage and all the momentum going in. Rivalry games are always a bit odd, as motivation is built in and neither side should have to get up for the game. However, if you were going to stack motivations, the Trojans would sit higher. Revenge is a good a motivator as you can get. Throw in the fact that Ed Orgeron likely needs a win to have any shot at securing the head coaching job and USC has plenty in the tank to fuel them.
But since games aren’t just about motivation, the X’s and O’s favor USC as well. UCLA’s offensive line is a mess, giving up the second most sacks and tackles for loss in the conference. Injuries on that front won’t help matters as they face one of the best defensive fronts in the country.
On offense, USC may not have the greatest numbers, but in the month of November they’ve put up more points than all but Washington in the Pac-12. Buck Allen has proven himself as a game-changer, despite an offensive line that has struggled for much of the season. The return of Tre Madden should also reap dividends. Through the air, Cody Kessler is hitting his stride at just the right time and for once he’ll have the full host of his targets available, including Marqise Lee and tight ends Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.
Both teams will go on mini-runs and momentum will swing in big ways. It’ll be the Trojans who come out on top with Orgeron’s voice on the sideline pushing them forward.