Southern California and crosstown rival UCLA meet Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum with their sights set on a game in Pasadena.
The eighth-ranked Trojans look to win their sixth straight Pac-10 championship and earn a spot in the Rose Bowl when they host the Bruins, who also have a shot of earning a bid to that BCS game.
USC (9-2, 6-2) routed then-No. 7 Arizona State 44-24 on Thanksgiving to win its third straight game and move up three spots in both the poll and the BCS standings. The Trojans can win the Pac-10 title with a victory in this game.
“It ain’t over yet,” Trojans coach Pete Carroll said. “We just need to keep playing. We’re in a playoff run. You’ve got to keep winning. You keep winning and good things will happen.
“This is what we shoot for is to get to that Rose Bowl. We have a shot to do that, and we have a shot to be a champion again. We’re going to be very, very proud if that’s what we can get accomplished by winning next week.”
Carroll has led USC to a 26-1 mark in November and December regular-season games, but that lone loss came to UCLA last year.
The Bruins (6-5, 5-3) upset the then-No. 2 Trojans 13-9 on Dec. 2 to snap a seven-game losing streak to their rivals and deprive USC of a chance to play for the national championship. That game was at the Rose Bowl, though, and the Trojans have won 37 of their last 38 at the Coliseum. They have won their last four home games over the Bruins by an average of 27.3 points since a 31-24 loss on Nov. 22, 1997.
UCLA can earn a Rose Bowl berth with a win over USC along with an Arizona victory over No. 13 Arizona State.
“Our goal was to be in a position for this opportunity. I can’t tell you I thought we’d be 6-5 with this opportunity,” Bruins coach Karl Dorrell said. “But it is what it is.”
This is the 36th time in the 77-game history of this rivalry, which the Trojans own a 41-28-7 advantage, that a Rose Bowl berth is at stake.
The possibility of playing in the Rose Bowl seemed unlikely for both USC and UCLA not long ago.
After going just 2-2 in October, including a shocking upset loss to Stanford - a 41-point underdog - the Trojans again played like the preseason No. 1 team in their win over the Sun Devils.
John David Booty had one of his best games of the season, throwing for a season-high 375 yards, matching a career high with four touchdown passes and running for a score. Booty, who missed three games with a broken finger in October, has thrown for 661 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions during the Trojans’ three-game winning streak.
“The individual showing from John David was just perfectly timed,” Carroll said after the win over Arizona State. “He’s back now. He’s ready to go.”
Against the Bruins last season, Booty went 23-of-39 for 274 yards and an interception.
The Trojans’ defense also had a stellar performance last week, recording six sacks and limiting the Sun Devils to 16 rushing yards on 35 attempts. USC is sixth in the nation in scoring defense (16.7 points per game), and one of Arizona State’s touchdowns came on a kickoff return and the other came in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach.
UCLA, meanwhile, is second-worst in the Pac-10 in scoring (24.4), and had just one touchdown in its 16-0 win over then-No. 9 Oregon last Saturday.
The Bruins finished with season lows of 10 first downs and 220 yards, but still managed to snap a three-game losing streak.
“I think everybody counted us out after we went through our midseason slide,” UCLA safety Dennis Keyes said. “To be playing this game with a possible chance to go to the Rose Bowl is definitely crazy.”
Osaar Rasshan played the first half at quarterback for the Bruins last week and was 0-for-7 with one interception in his second career start. Ben Olson, playing for the first time since injuring his left knee in a 20-6 loss to Notre Dame on Oct. 6, came in after the break and completed 4 of 10 passes for 64 yards with one interception.
Olson began the season as the starter, and Dorrell probably won’t say until late in the week which quarterback will start this game.
“Next week’s game is what we need to focus in on,” Dorrell said. “That’s the most exciting game in football, in my opinion - a great rivalry game. We will find a way to do the things necessary to make us successful.”