USC, UCLA: PAC-12 legacies and a rivalry like no other


USC, UCLA: PAC-12 legacies and a rivalry like no other


USC, UCLA: PAC-12 legacies and a rivalry like no other


USC and UCLA renewed a rivalry this past Saturday. The Trojans held on for a 48-45 victory in the Rose Bowl. This signature game in the conference dates back to 1929 with the winning team taking possession of a 295 pound brass bell, the Victory Bell, first awarded in 1942. USC has the all-time lead in the series 50-33-7, and has won the bell 47 times.

Now, the Bruins and Trojans are ending an association with the conference that they themselves were responsible for putting on the college football map, and making the game relevant west of Texas and Oklahoma. Even when the Rams relocated from Cleveland in 1946, they were never more popular than USC or UCLA. That said, it was the Trojans that were glitz, glamor and talent rich. A slice of Hollywood on the gridiron. 

-Clay Matthews, LB

-Lynn Swann, WR

-O.J. Simpson, RB

-Junior Seau, LB

-Marcus Allen, RB

-Frank Gifford, RB/WR

Gifford was the epitome of football in Southern California. Handsome and talented, he’d play NFL football on the opposite coast for another glamorous destination, New York. He would have an incredibly successful career and was the forerunner for another celebrity football player in the Big Apple, Joe Namath. As he did at USC, he’d become king of the city he played in. This was the essence of USC football. The Trojans have won 11 national championships, with its last in 2004. In Pasadena, the UCLA Bruins won their first and only title in 1954.

It’s fair to say that USC is college football in Los Angeles. UCLA has been good, but not great. The PAC-8 saw its first growth in 1978 with the addition of Arizona and Arizona State, and two more teams, Utah and Colorado in 2012. The PAC-12 was a reality and was a major player in college football. USC was still the godfather of the league, bringing big names, big wins, Heisman Trophy winners and a run under Peter Carroll that was legendary. Then it all changed as the Big Ten would come calling, putting the Conference of Champions in their own personal snow globe.

On June 30, 2022 the Big Ten made a stunning announcement. The University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles would become members of the conference beginning August 2nd, 2024. The PAC-12 would shudder, wondering what was next and who might be next. At the end of the day, heading into the annual USC and UCLA rivalry game, the league looks to be holding its powder. Whatever happens now remains to be seen as the first order of business is a new media deal. Until then, expansion remains only idle conversation at the league office in San Francisco. In Indianapolis, the Big Ten decision makers still need to figure out where both California schools will be in a conference with a West and East division. 

An assignment to the West side of the conference would effectively have USC and then everyone else. Even UCLA would be rough for schools like Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Northwestern and Nebraska. 

Ultimately, that’s a minor issue. USC and UCLA took a long view of the realities of a dwindling league who hadn’t been winning much, a lucrative television deal, and the rich recruiting ground of the best talent in California going east. When the Big Ten made an offer they couldn’t refuse, they didn’t. 

The lieutenants at the offices in San Francisco will lament the date June 30th. First, because the long coattails of the flagship schools in Los Angeles are gone. And second, they know the move to the Midwest will make USC and UCLA stronger as west coast recruits will look to the prestige and better television exposure the Big Ten will bring. Additionally, while ESPN keeps the PAC-12 floating along because of late night college football programming, no one outside of the Mountain and Pacific time zone pays attention.

College football at the highest level is rooted in money. Lots of money. It’s better ad revenue, better media deals, and big time bowl games. The biggest recruits want to play in NY6 bowl games and be in the mix for the College Football Playoff, not the Las Vegas Bowl or the Idaho Potato Bowl. The PAC-12 schools hate it. The conference commission hates it. 

As the end of the oldest and most popular rivalry game drew to a close in Pasadena, both schools reminded fans on the West Coast that the days of the Bruins and Trojans locking up for their annual rivalry game in the PAC-12 is on the clock. As the evening began to wind down to the final gun, UCLA would throw an interception on what would be their last offensive possession. USC would remind their little crosstown brother that they are still the big dog as the scoreboard went final and the Trojans would record a 48-45 win. Next season, they’ll play their last rivalry game as members of the conference at the Coliseum. A fitting venue for the event.

The message to the PAC-12 hierarchy is simple. USC and UCLA would outgrow the conference they helped put on the college football map. At the end of the day, the math was simple, and so was their parting shot: 

Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

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