For the first time in his three-year tenure, Chip Kelly has coached UCLA to a winning record. For the first time in three years, USC has a shot at the Pac-12 title.
Where those roads meet: the Rose Bowl, where two rivals collide Saturday in the Battle for LA.
The undefeated and No. 15-ranked Trojans, looking to repeat their 52-35 drubbing of UCLA in last year’s matchup, are playing for a spot in the conference championship game.
But the Bruins, looking to finish the regular season above .500 for the first time since 2015, aim to spoil that vision and bring back to campus the revered Victory Bell.
For the first time in five years, the rivalry means more than simple bragging rights.
Battle for the Victory Bell an intriguing matchup
No fans will be in attendance for Saturday’s game, which is scheduled to kick off at 4:30 p.m. PT.
But that doesn’t lessen the significance of what will be happening on the field.
Into Pasadena comes a USC team that has faced plenty of questions yet comes off a 38-13 route of Washington State.
Each of the team’s five touchdowns came off the arm of quarterback Kedon Slovis in the first half, including four in the first quarter to wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.
Slovis, who has been criticized by Trojans fans this year for inconsistent play in the face of enormous expectations, still leads the nation in completions per game and is seventh in completion percentage.
No doubt Slovis looks to replicate the 515 passing yards he accumulated last year against the Bruins.
Fortunately for UCLA fans, the Bruins boast one of the conference’s best defenses, holding opponents to under 20 points in their last two games.
Combine that with strong fourth-quarter play and the challenges posed by Kelly’s dual-threat quarterback, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, and UCLA certainly has a shot at an upset.
Sportsbooks favor Trojans to win in Pasadena
While California does not boast state-regulated sports betting, nearby Nevada offers a glimpse into the Los Angeles rivalry.
Legal sportsbooks in Nevada like the Trojans to maintain their grip on the 295-pound Victory Bell, although they envision a close game.
USC has moved in recent days from 3.5- to 2.5-point favorites on BetMGM with a -140 moneyline. On the flip side, a UCLA victory will pay +115 via BetMGM.
The game’s over/under is set at 62, a total surpassed only five times in this rivalry since 2000.
The Trojans are also 2.5-point favorites through William Hill, again falling below what is the important three-point figure for many bettors.
USC’s moneyline sits at -140 with the sportsbooks, while UCLA goes in at +120. The total also stands at 62 points.
What are the Pac-12 implications?
Both UCLA and USC have only played conference games in 2020, a fact that could pay major dividends for the Trojans.
Despite close calls against Arizona State and Arizona, USC heads into the Rose Bowl with a 4-0 record and on track to play in the Pac-12 championship game.
Meanwhile, UCLA enters Saturday’s matchup at 3-2, with road losses to Oregon and fast-charging, now-21st-ranked Colorado. The Bruins do not have a path to the title.
Instead, it’s the Buffaloes, a surprising contender in the Pac-12 South, that will watch USC-UCLA closer than anyone else.
Raw deal for Colorado one of weekend’s main storylines
Colorado (-1.5 on BetMGM) plays Utah at 9:05 a.m. PT.
The game was moved from Friday night to FOX’s Big Noon Kickoff national broadcast Saturday to replace the canceled Ohio State-Michigan matchup.
A Colorado loss in that game would guarantee USC the Pac-12 South crown and a slot in the Pac-12 championship. A Colorado win, combined with a USC loss, would give the Buffaloes the South title.
As things stand now, a win by both teams would leave USC atop the Pac-12 South, the product of the Trojans having more conference victories. Although Colorado is also 4-0, one of those wins came against the San Diego State of the Mountain West.
That game? A spur-of-the-moment contest after the Buffaloes’ scheduled game with USC was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Trojans’ program. A previous outbreak within Arizona State cost Colorado another possible conference win.
That all means Colorado could go undefeated but find itself ineligible for the conference championship game, in part due to COVID outbreaks in other programs.
For USC, it all comes down to one thing: Win, and they’re in. Colorado, on the other hand, will hope for a win and USC loss. Short of that, USC will take a big step toward reclaiming its past national prominence.