It’s the final weekend of the regular season in college football for USC and UCLA after a season of surprises, a season of disappointments.
There were expectations, some enormous highs and some definite lows. Both are headed to postseason bowl games, though not where we thought they would wind up.
At USC, we all know the history, the track record and the issues with Lane Kiffin. He inherited a mess, has made something out of it, but faces tough times ahead. The NCAA sanctions are taking hold of the program. The scholarship count of players in the program will drop for the next three years. The sanctions will likely be felt for the next five years.
Kiffin, a brilliant recruiter, is a riverboat gambler of a play caller. He is brazen. His offenses have been a joy to watch; the defenses, a disaster to have to witness.
The head coach has a tough decision to make shortly. Does he keep the defensive coordinator on the job, despite three straight horror-show performances in losses to Arizona, Oregon and UCLA?
The coordinator in question is his legendary father Monte Kiffin whose defensive schemes have failed.
The USC coach has had a season of triumph and a year of trashy controversies — feuds with the media over practice access; reporting of injuries; a 28-second press conference; the issue of the fake jersey exchange in a game; and banning a visiting team from a walk through at the Coliseum.
At UCLA, new coach Jim Mora had never been a college head coach before. His pro football resume was excellent as an assistant, but there were firings in Atlanta and Seattle when he was a head coach.
But in UCLA history, hiring him was no different than the chances the school took with the likes of Terry Donahue, Bob Toledo, Karl Dorrell. Sometimes it works; sometimes not. This time it seemingly has.
Mora’s first ride has not been easy, though — media flare-ups, foul-mouthed explosions, insults about the school across town and the berating of his own people in full view of others. All for the team, but the methods are sometimes questioned.
What is not questioned, however, is his passion and the end result is a (9-2) record, a big time bowl game and the rebirth of a school no longer to be known at the “Gutty Little Bruins.” Mora made them big, physical, violent and loud.
The two schools’ stories also revolve around the quarterbacks — one still playing, the other likely done.
USC’s Matt Barkley has finished a great career with his right arm in a sling after suffering a shoulder injury in the final minutes last weekend. He bypassed all the money and fame of being an NFL draft pick to come back for one more season, drive his team off probation and into a big bowl. His individual accomplishments are awesome, but he won’t be able to complete the journey.
He leaves USC with astounding single season passing numbers (3,273 yards and 36 touchdowns). His name is all over the record book – 20 USC passing records and 10 Pac 12 marks. He finishes with over 12,327 passing yards and 116 touchdowns. He made everything else in the offense great, as witnessed by the 100-plus reception season of sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee.
As Barkley exits, UCLA’s Brett Hundley has arrived. Hurt as a freshman, he started this year and has been dynamic. He is a great athlete who has flourished in a spread offense designed by UCLA’s new offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone. Hundley, with three years of eligibility left, has over 3,200 yards passing and rushing. And he has a win over enemy USC already under his belt.
Fireplug tailback Jonathan Franklin has rushed for 1,441 yards this year and leaves UCLA as its all-time leading rusher with 4,110 all-purpose yards. These are bigger numbers than the greatness of Gaston Green or Freeman McNeil or others.
The same can be said for a running back no longer at USC. Reggie Bush has gone on to earn millions in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins. Left behind were great games and stats, but also the stain of the NCAA-scandal involving him, his parents and marketing people resulting in more than $300,000 in illegal benefits.
When the NCAA was done, the Trojans lost 30 scholarships, Bush lost his Heisman trophy, was banned forever from being in Heritage Hall and his team barred from bowl games.
He got rich and now USC is poor because the scholarship limit is down. Credit him, blame him for what USC is about to become. No one will fondly remember him in the same sentence as O.J. Simpson, Anthony Davis or others of lore.
The arrow is pointed up at UCLA, thanks to the coach, quarterback and running back. The arrow sadly seems to be pointing down now at USC, with the coach losing his quarterback, the loss of all those recruits and a running back who got away with it.
UCLA may be about to return to a special type of glory. At USC, this may be the beginning of the end of their great era.