It’s going to be hard for UCLA and Jim Mora to downplay the importance of the UCLA-USC rivalry and its current status in 2012.
And while rivalries — particularly those based in geography — don’t die, UCLA’s resurgence on to the national scene combined with USC’s disappointing season has seen the UCLA-USC rivalry almost reach “renewed” status, despite the fact that it hasn’t died.
This year, though? The hostility seems a tad elevated. From the UCLA sign being vandalized, to John Wooden’s statue being covered by a box, to UCLA officials prohibiting the USC Drum Major from, the rivalry has become the talk of the town. With UCLA and USC both in firm position to take the Pac-12 South title, the winner takes the division and goes on to the Pac-12 title game for a shot at heading to the Rose Bowl.
But the stakes go beyond that. Because while the immediate goals are the most salient, and while players, coaches, fans, alum and other spectators and participants are all focused on just beating USC in 2012, the long-term effects on the rivalry will flip the city of Los Angeles on its side.
If you’ve forgotten, Matt Barkley is gone after this season, a year after deciding to return to USC to take care of “unfinished business,” or whatever that was. SC running back Curtis McNeal’s also a senior. Silas Redd could be back, although he’s a junior and it’s unknown whether he’ll bounce LA for the 2013 NFL draft.
Robert Woods could likely leave after this season, too, after a slightly disappointing campaign in 2012, ceding all the glory to his fellow USC wide-out, Marqise Lee.
If you’re keeping count, that’s the majority of the USC offense that could be gone after the 2012 season ends.
With that, the framework for UCLA to dominate the Los Angeles football scene is set. And all this is independent of the outcome of Saturday’s showdown in Pasadena.
Of course, a win would set everything in motion. And while SC fans will downplay the importance of this game to their 2013 recruiting class, it’s other factors that a UCLA win could bring into the fore.
If UCLA beats USC on Saturday, Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin likely loses his job, ceding four losses through ten games despite having the most offensive talent at his disposal since USC fielded a team featuring Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush. And although recruiting at USC is not at all difficult, USC fans have come to the fair conclusion that Kiffin is a beastly recruiter, setting his Trojans up for continued dominance in the future.
And to add to the teetering future of USC football, according to Edward Lewis at Rivals, recruits will show up in droves to the game:
— Edward Lewis (@EdwardLewisBSR) November 12, 2012
If UCLA wins, they’ll impress more than just a couple of soft commits. In recruiting, “hard” commitments mean as much as soft verbals do. With many of these recruits having expectations that USC would be national title contenders, a UCLA win would further foster the growth of the seed of doubt planted in their heads after USC’s loss to Stanford, which was only buried further with South Cal’s loss to Arizona and Oregon.
And though UCLA might not earn the commitments of South Cal’s decommits, it’ll shake up USC’s talent-base for the near future and enliven UCLA’s recruiting pitch as the offseason progresses.
Of course, the firing of Lane Kiffin will do serious damage, too. Because there’s no guarantee USC hires a competent-enough coach to take on all that talent and mold them into winners. While SC fans are confident, the program isn’t prone to making bad hires, which is why Kiffin would be dismissed in the first place.
Meanwhile, UCLA will only develop its talent. Quarterback Brett Hundley is just a redshirt freshman and the UCLA offensive line — which has become markedly improved over the season — consists of three freshmen and a sophomore. Add the fact that wide-outs Jordan Payton, Devin Lucien, and Kenneth Walker are all freshman, and it’s clear the offense is only going to get miles better over the next season. A 2013 Pac-12 championship wouldn’t be out of the question, along with a win over a possibly-struggling USC team under a new head coach.
And then the cycle could repeat itself. The possibilities, the turn in the rivalry, are endless.
A lot of this doesn’t happen, though, unless UCLA beats USC on Saturday.
A win doesn’t just determine the 2012 Pac-12 South champion; it’ll determine the direction of this rivalry and both of these programs individually for years to come.