Here are five storylines as USC (7-3, 5-3 Pac-12) travels to the Rose Bowl to play UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac-12) on Saturday.
1. Battle of L.A. is even more relevant this year: You don’t need any extra incentive to get the juices pumping for this game, but this year there is the added motivation of having the winner advance to the Pac-12 title game. It’s an unexpected development when you consider where both teams started the season. But it’s no fluke. Jim Mora has quickly re-energized the UCLA program, and it is trying to take advantage of a USC program that has stumbled a few times. The Trojans, however, have the memories of last year’s 50-0 whitewash over the Bruins to serve as a reminder of how good they can be.
2. Can Marqise Lee continue his torrid streak?: There might not be a hotter player in all of college football. Lee is No. 2 in the nation in all-purpose yards, receptions and reception yards after a 10-catch, 161-yard performance last week when he was suffering from an allergic reaction. Assuming he is allergy-free on Saturday, look for Lee to exploit a UCLA secondary that is struggling this year. The Bruins’ pass defense is giving up 266 passing yards per game, which is No. 103 in the country.
3. USC defense vs. another spread offense: The Trojans are certainly well-versed in facing variations of the spread. This will be the fourth straight week the defense will go up against it. There have been varying results, of course, but the defense is coming off a strong performance against ASU, so it has some confidence heading into this game. The biggest tests for the Trojans will come from the running of Johnathan Franklin -- the all-time leading rusher in UCLA history who is No. 6 in the nation this year with 1,270 yards -- and the multi-dimensional abilities of quarterback Brett Hundley.
4. Is this the biggest game for Matt Barkley and Lane Kiffin?: It’s been an interesting year for Barkley and Kiffin, to say the least. There have been records galore for Barkley -- the kind of marks that demand respect -- but there have also been losses and hits to his reputation. This game will offer a defining moment for Barkley’s legacy -- a victory in this high-stakes game will mean a Pac-12 title game appearance and an opportunity to finish his career in the Rose Bowl. But a loss means no title game appearance and a secondary bowl slot. As for Kiffin, he has come under increased scrutiny lately with a lot of speculation about his job security. The best he can hope to do is coach his way out of it.
5. Recruiting impact: The bragging rights that come with a win in this rivalry are fierce, and that extends to the way local recruits perceive both programs. Right now, there is an established pecking order in the city when it comes to recruiting -- the Trojans are the lead dogs and the Bruins are doing everything they can to change that. There is simply no better way to gain momentum in the recruiting wars than to beat your crosstown rival.