For Whom The Bell Tolls: Scondi’s USC vs. UCLA 2017 preview


With the Pac-12 South division clinched, USC vs. UCLA is all about finishing the season strong against crosstown rivals.

It’s not USC. It’s the Pac-12.

I’ve finally come to this realization that my disappointment after games this year isn’t due to the team, but the conference they play in.

The Trojans are 9-2, winning the Pac-12 South with a game to spare and beating their last three opponents by 14 points or more. No one should be upset about how this year has gone. They are on pace to meet most of their season expectations (at least the realistic ones). They take an interesting route to victory every week, but they always seem to find themselves in the winner’s circle.

The way the Pac-12 operates as a conference is the reason there’s a sour taste in the mouth of fans after games. The last three wins left fans feeling like the team lost afterwards. Is it because of the Trojans’ play? Or is it because USC’s worst moments were magnified by the conference’s horrendous officiating?

Against Arizona State, the officiating crew got the review of the Hail Mary wrong at the end of the first half. There wasn’t enough evidence to reverse the call on the field. There was no angle that showed that Kyle Williams had crossed the plane of the end zone. The only clear image I saw was from a USC photographer and I don’t think the referees have access to his camera.

The review was wrong and the whole process was drawn out and disorganized. It took wainsy too long and by the time they finished, both teams were in their locker rooms and had to be told to come out for the extra point.

Maybe the referees should have told both teams to wait on the sidelines instead of having to walk out of the stadium to get the team to return to the field.

When USC played Arizona, the Wildcats comeback was paired with what felt like a two-hour third quarter brought on by the endless and unnecessary amount of lengthy reviews. The Pac-12 referees needed at least five minutes to count how many men were on the field.

This week against Colorado, there was another barage of unnecessary penalties and reviews in the first half which stalled the momentum of the Trojans. Tyler Vaughns was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for spinning the ball.

JuJu Smith-Schuster is putting on broadway shows in NFL end zones, but Tyler Vaughns can’t even flick the ball after the whistle blows. The worst part was a Colorado player was penalized later for the same thing. An eye for an eye makes the world blind. That may be the intention of the Pac-12 referees since they don’t seem like they can see.

It isn’t just the officiating. It’s the conference scheduling.

Two of those three teams that lost on Friday had to travel on consecutive weeks. If you’re going to schedule a Thursday or Friday matchup, the least the conference can do is have both teams play at home the week before one has to travel on short rest.

It’s absolutely insane that the conference doesn’t put its best teams in a position to win. Creating a level playing field is a great concept until you realize no other conference is doing it.

Here’s the amount of weekday games for each conference after the first week:

SEC – 1

Big 10 – 4

Big 12 – 4

Pac-12 – 8

ACC – 9

Clemson’s only loss this year? A road game against Syracuse on Friday.

The lack of bye killed the Trojans this season. The loss against Washington State would have been avoided if the USC had time to heal their injured roster. Instead, the Trojans had to travel all the way up the West Coast on a short week.

The coaches should have a say. Selecting your bye week should be based on the team’s record the previous season.

Again, an even playing field sounds fair until you look around and see the rest of the Power 5 conferences are cheating. Alabama and Auburn are both playing FCS opponents this week before facing off against each other in the season finale. The Big 12 added a championship game because it was the reason they were left out of the playoff in 2014. Now they are two TCU wins away from shooting themselves in the foot, but that’s besides the point.

The other conferences make decisions for their best teams, while the Pac-12 believes everyone should have a seat at the table.

1-9 Oregon State shouldn’t be getting the same treatment as 9-2 USC.

Want to know what drives TV revenue? When your best teams are playing their best.

Want to know what drives TV revenue? When a team is representing the Pac-12 in the playoff.

Parity doesn’t create more viewers. No one is tuning in to watch two 5-6 teams play each other at 7:30 p.m. next Friday night.

The Pac-12 Championship Game is at 5:00 p.m. on a Friday. Who would want to go to this game?

If you live in the Bay Area, you’ll have to take the day off and travel an hour and a half to get to the stadium from San Francisco. If you’re flying in for the game, you will have to take multiple days off.

Imagine sacrificing multiple days of pay for the Pac-12 Championship. Even if you have unlimited vacations, I wouldn’t waste them on an opportunity to sit in Silicon Valley traffic.

CHECK OUT: What USC’s Lessons from Colorado Mean vs. UCLA

No one watches Pac-12 games. People can make arguments all they want about late kickoff times. People are asleep on the East Coast before halftime. Imagine trying to convince your significant other to stay up to watch Utah vs. Arizona. I love #Pac12AfterDark, but I love sleep more.

USC’s success is being hindered by the conference’s incompetence. These problems need to be fixed.

Maybe commissioner Larry Scott should start by reaching an agreement with DirecTV so everyone can watch the Pac-12 Network. Probably a better way to drive TV revenue than what they are doing now.

UCLA Team Preview

Note: As always, Bill Connelly’s team preview of UCLA was invaluable to my research. He gets the credit.


With a 5-5 record and two weeks to go, UCLA is on pace to meet their projected win total for the year. Even if they lose the next two games, they’ll still have more wins than they did in 2016. Don’t let Notre Dame distract you from the fact that the UCLA went 4-8 last season.  Although, that record is less shocking for the Bruins than it is for the Fighting Irish.

They started off their season well, with an amazing 34-point comeback against Texas A&M, but after that there hasn’t been much to turn on the television for.

Unless you like watching the Bruins lose (if you’re reading this you probably do), then it hasn’t been an enjoyable season. They’ve gone 2-1 in non-conference play and 3-4 in the Pac-12. Their wins against conference opponents have been close, but their losses have been blowouts.

Can’t think of a better way to for the Jim Mora era at UCLA to end than missing a bowl game by losing the last game of the season at home.


This is Mora’s sixth and potentially final year at UCLA. He’s had a 46-29 record coaching the Bruins. His tenure started well, winning the Pac-12 South in his first year, following it up with two consecutive 10-win seasons. Since then, things have taken quite a turn and UCLA has gone 9-13 in the last two years.

When you realize Mora has squandered the most talented quarterback the school has ever had because of the yearly turnover of offensive coordinators, it makes sense why his seat is hotter than Los Angeles during a heat wave.

Signs you’re about to get fired:

Bad record? Check.

Banners being flown over your stadium? Check.

If it’s any consolation prize, UCLA plays in the Rose Bowl so at least they get to play on the same field as champions.

Recruits decommitting as fast as possible? Check.

Is losing 20 percent of your draft class in seven days a bad thing? Asking for an enemy.

Getting upset with reporters during interviews? Check.

Well, actually, he’s been doing that his whole career.

Being confrontational with the media has been a staple of Jim Mora’s career. His demeanor shouldn’t be surprising.

Like father, like son.


UCLA is 26th in total offense averaging 462.5 yards per game, which is pretty good for a team that has had three offensive coordinators in three years. A great way to develop players is by giving them a new playbook to learn every year. Why learn one offensive system when you can learn three?

The offensive coordinator for this season is Jedd Fisch, formerly the quarterbacks coach at Michigan. Fisch runs a pro-style offense, which could be beneficial for any players that want to leave for the NFL early. Especially if those players have been very vocal about the difficulties of being a student-athlete.

Hopefully, with success this year, Fisch will stay at UCLA for more than one year. On the other hand, if Jim Mora is fired, his coaching staff might suffer the same fate and the Bruins will have a coordinator for each year of Josh Rosen’s college career (if he decides to stay for his senior year, which he won’t).

SEE ALSO: The USC vs. UCLA Matchup By the Numbers

UCLA is good at one thing: passing. The only reason the Bruins are good at passing: Josh Rosen

Rosen has thrown for 3,094 yards, 21 touchdown and nine interceptions for the Bruins this season. That’s pretty impressive considering he missed a game and a half with a concussion. He’s ninth in the nation in passing yards and tied for first in the Pac-12 with six 300-yard passing games this year.

His stats have lived up to his nickname, “The Chosen One”, but his record hasn’t as he’s only been able to muster up a 16-12 record in his three-year career with UCLA.

Moses was able to part the red sea. Rosen can’t even beat Arizona.

It’s not just his play on the field that has thrust Rosen into the national spotlight. While being projected as a top pick in next year’s draft, Rosen has gained a lot of notoriety by how outspoken he’s been in his time with the Bruins. Here’s some of the highlight:

His freshman year, he had a dorm room hot tub and shared it with a random Wildcats fan that put her number on a College Gameday sign. Definitely a story to tell the kids when they ask how you met.

F&%k Trump

A post shared by Josh Rosen (@josh3rosen) on Apr 10, 2016 at 3:01pm PDT

His sophomore year, he wore a hat insulting the President on his own golf course. Surprised Trump never tweeted about this.

This year, he had very insightful points on the hardships on student-athletes. Unfortunately during the interview, he gave a very headline grabbing quote, which led to him angering the most volatile fanbase in football. Rosen creates click bait on and off the field.

UCLA’s passing attack compensates for their lack of a ground game on offense. The Bruins average 129.5 yards per game on the ground, which is 105th in the nation. The rushing offense is led by the tandem of Bolu Olurunfunmi and Soso Jamabo.

Olurunfunmi has rushed for 484 yards and five touchdowns. Surprised he doesn’t have more yards when “run” is in his name.

Jamabo has rushed for 362 yards for six touchdowns. His first name is very fitting for his play on the field.

UCLA has some of the best receivers in the Pac-12, but anyone catching Josh Rosen’s passes would be. Wide receiver Darren Andrews has 60 receptions for 773 yards and 10 touchdowns. He’s fourth in the nation in touchdown receptions and first in the Pac-12 in receptions per game.  However, he won’t be on the field for the Bruins after suffering a season-ending injury.

Wide receiver Jordan Lasley has 39 receptions for 705 yards and four touchdowns. He’s first in the Pac-12 with four 100-yard receiving games this season. What’s even scarier about his stats is that he’s done it in only six games. Imagine the damage he would do with a full season.

TRENDING: Breaking Down USC’s 2018 Schedule

The Bruins had tight end Caleb Wilson, but lost him for the season due to a foot injury. In five games, he had 38 receptions for 490 yards and one touchdown. The name might sound familiar because Wilson was on the USC team in 2015 before going across town. Losing tight ends to transfers seems to be an ongoing theme for the Trojans.

UCLA returned all but one of the eight linemen who started in 2016. The offensive line is anchored by center Scott Quessenberry, who leads the team with 41 career starts. While Quessenberry, provides protection in the middle, the edges need help giving up 2.10 sacks per game.


UCLA might have the worst defense in the Pac-12 and that is saying something. They are ranked 123rd in nation in total offense, giving up 499.0 yards per game.  Oregon State is five spots better and they don’t even have a head coach. Neither will UCLA in two weeks.

The lack of defense is surprising when you realize it was the only thing that kept them in games in the final six Rosen-less games of the season last year. Defensive coordinator Tom Bradley did a great job in his first year. Unfortunately, in his second season, the Bruins lost three of their top five linemen, three of their top five linebackers, and four of their top seven defensive backs.

With the lack of returning starters, UCLA has had to rely on youth. Six players in their first year were starting against Arizona State. Freshman and sophomore defenders made 49 of the 96 tackles last week. The future could be bright, but the present is dark.

Their run defense is historically bad. Ronald Jones II may be able to pass O.J. Simpson in career all-time rushing yards by the first half. A white Bronco can’t outrun the Texas Tesla. Jones II might be able to get up to the Anthony “The Notre Dame Killer” Davis if he gets enough carries against UCLA. (Whoops, probably shouldn’t have put “O.J. Simpson” and “killer” in the same paragraph.)

SEE MORE: USC’s Best Ever Performers vs. Pac-12 Foes

They’ve allowed 302.3 rushing yards per game which is the worst in the nation. Do you realize how hard it is for a Power 5 program to be the worst at something? Think about all the teams you see playing in front of empty stadiums on Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Those teams can stop a running back better than UCLA.

For example, the Trojans seem dedicated to giving the ball away at least two times a game and there are still 20 or so teams that have more turnovers this season.

On the line, UCLA has defensive end Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, who leads the team with 5.5 sacks.

Their linebacking corps is led by Kenny Young, who leads the team in tackles and is fourth in the Pac-12 in tackles per game with a 8.6 average. Young has surged in the second half of the season with double-digit tackles in five of the last seven games.

The Bruins secondary is their best unit. Not surprising considering their rushing defense gives up more than 100 yards than the passing defense.

Cornerback Nate Meadows has seven pass break-ups on the season. Their safeties, Adarius Pickett and Jaleel Wadood, are second and third in tackles on the team respectively. It should be assumed that they probably get the majority of their tackles because the opponent’s running back got past the first and second level of the defense.

The UCLA defense allows a lot of touchdowns, but they also create them too. This year, the Bruins have scored three touchdowns on defense, which is 10th in the nation and first in the Pac-12.

Special Teams

On special teams, UCLA has kicker JJ Molson, who is 42-of-43 on PATs and 12-of-15 on field goals. Punter Stefan Flintoft is averaging 42.4 yards per punt this season. That’s good enough for him to be placed on the Ray Guy Award watchlist, along with every other punter in the nation.

The Bruins special teams ranks at the bottom in every category. How does a team with such bad statistics have five wins on the season? UCLA is Josh Rosen and 84 other guys.


This section is devoted to the long time tradition of creating scenarios in which USC can make the College Football Playoff.

USC got its chaotic week and…nothing happened. The Trojans stayed at No. 11 in the newest College Football Playoff rankings. Fans will probably take this in stride.

*Narrator’s voice* They did not take this in stride.

Complain about the team. Complain about our rankings. Repeat. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Trying to debate why a team with two losses and only one Top-25 win deserves to be in the playoff is a lot better than arguing whether a head coach who is a year removed from winning the Rose Bowl should be fired. It’s a way more rational reason to be mad online.

USC’s playoff hopes are slim, but above is what needs to happen in the next three weeks. None of these hypotheticals are completely unreasonable. A lot of them can easily happen. The greater question is: do you really want the Trojans in the playoff?

The majority of my followers/readers are smart. Why end the season with a beatdown against Alabama when you could watch USC have a chance against a lesser opponent in the Fiesta Bowl? The Trojans are capable of beating any team in the nation if they play at their best, but that hasn’t happened all season.

Win or lose, USC is going to the Pac-12 Championship. The only thing at stake this week is bragging rights.

Should I Stay Or Should I Go

If fans need this section to convince them to watch this game, they aren’t really fans. Unless they root for UCLA and stumbled upon this preview. In that case, they should go out for a nice early dinner. Maybe watch the sunset at 4:56 PM.


The strategy for USC this week is the same it has been for the last two: Run the ball.

UCLA’s rushing defense is literally the worst in the nation. Ronald Jones II should have 20 carries by the end of the first quarter. It’s his last game in the Coliseum. If he comes back next year, it will be to play the Rams.

Run the ball, then run the ball and after that, run the ball some more. Give it to Jones II, Aca’Cedric Ware, Stephen Carr, or Vavae Malepeai.

Maybe don’t give it to Velus Jones on a jet sweep. Teams seem to realize what play USC is running when he comes on the field. Also, can we chill out on the trick plays? Just quick routes and outside runs. The coaching staff needs to stop making the offensive strategy so complicated.

There’s no doubt Tee Martin will divert from the running game to throw the ball. When he does, the Trojans need to protect Sam Darnold. There’s been a bounty on his head before the season even started.

Darnold should be able to handle himself. He was able to take care of McKinley last year.

USC had its first game without a turnover last week. Let’s hope the Trojans can be mistake free for the second week in the row instead of allowing a Bruin defender to streak into the end zone with a Darnold interception. They’ve only had 10 turnovers on the year, but three of those have led to defensive touchdowns.

The Bruins are 110th in red zone defense. The Trojans are 112th in red zone offense. Stoppable force meets movable object.

On defense, USC needs to stop Josh Rosen. Easier said than done, but a good place to start is by having more defenders in pass coverage.

The Trojan secondary seemed to be playing a lot of man coverage without zone last week which lead to two big scoring plays by Colorado. Jack Jones and Iman Marshall will need safety help against these talented receivers.

Rosen is going to be able to get his yards, but they don’t need to come in such large chunks. Prevent any big plays and force him into making a mistake. UCLA has 18 turnovers on the year. It should be easy to force turnovers when USC takes the lead and Rosen decides to go “full Brett Favre gunslinger”.

USC should be healthy, but the coaching staff should keep an eye on Chase McGarth. Even though he was kicking well in warm ups last week, everyone could tell something was wrong with his groin during the game when he could barely make extra points. Err on the side of caution with him and maybe get risky on some fourth down calls in opposing territory.

On second thought, maybe see if Reid Budrovich can kick field goals.

Finally, after three years, Darnold and Rosen will face off against each other to prove who is the better quarterback. Whoever wins goes first overall in the NFL Draft, right?

This rivalry is a big deal every year but for some there’s more significance.

Hopefully he never brought that bell in the bedroom. I hope the Trojan Knights gave it a thorough cleaning regardless.

More from Reign of Troy

This game would be a lot more exciting if the rivalry wasn’t so lopsided.  It just feels like beating up on your little brother.

Win or lose, USC goes to the Pac-12 Championship game. It’s hard to get up for a game when the only significance is a gentlemen’s bet you made with your coworker in the adjacent cubicle. Loser buys coffee on Monday.

The bell tolls for Jim Mora and the Bruins. Helping him get fired will be fun, but it gives UCLA the chance to find a good coach to replace him.

Maybe that will make the Crosstown Showdown competitive again.

USC 42, UCLA 24