The stakes between USC and UCLA have rarely been higher in the past three-plus decades. The Trojans are still in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship and a College Football Playoff berth while the Bruins need a win to keep their conference title hopes intact. The crosstown rivals will meet Saturday night at the Rose Bowl and be ready for those great online casino.
With that tension comes great fascination. Is No. 7 USC a legitimate Playoff threat or just a good but flawed team that has benefited from a very favorable schedule? Is 16th-ranked UCLA prepared to finally break through under Chip Kelly and make good on the program’s potential or will it falter on the big stage like it has for most of the past two-plus decades?
Is Caleb Williams ready for a Heisman-type run or will Dorian Thompson-Robinson upstage him Saturday? What will Kelly and Lincoln Riley, two of the sport’s best play callers, have planned? Can either defense come close to slowing down the opposing offense?
To gain better insight on this weekend’s game, The Athletic spoke to more than a dozen people in college football — head coaches, coordinators, assistant coaches, analysts and player personnel staffers — to get their thoughts on how these two rivals match up and what will ultimately decide Saturday’s game. They were granted anonymity for competitive reasons and to allow for a more unfiltered look at the matchup from the perspective of coaches.
"UCLA’s got a better roster right now," a Pac-12 personnel director said. "I would say USC has more top-end talent. But you know that top-end talent can win you some games like it has for them and has shown up a couple times this year."
You can’t discuss this game without looking at the offenses first. Both USC (9-1, 7-1 Pac-12) and UCLA (8-2, 5-1) are simply elite on that side of the ball. The Trojans (42.4 ppg) and Bruins (39.5 ppg) rank third and 11th, respectively, in the nation in scoring. As for yards per play: USC is tied for fourth (7.20) and UCLA is sixth (7.16).
UCLA hired Kelly five years ago this month. It’s been almost 365 days since USC lured Riley away from Oklahoma. These coaches were brought on board to produce prolific offenses, and they’re making good on it this year.