I’ve got no horse in this race. It won’t matter to me one iota whether UCLA or USC wins the Victory Bell on Saturday. I only hope to be entertained by the game.
But UCLA should be embarrassed by its senseless threat this week. If the USC drum major, dressed like a Trojan warrior, stabs his sword at midfield before the game, USC’s band will not be allowed to play at halftime.
The pregame swordsmanship display is one of college football’s great traditions. Like Chief Osceola planting his spear at Florida State, like Ralphie charging through the stadium at Colorado and like dotting the “i” at Ohio State, it’s a tradition that dates back decades and is part of the rich milieu of college football.
Granted, most of those traditions take place at each team’s home stadium. But it’s an ultimatum by UCLA that seems so petty and so absurd. The Bruins have lost 12 of the past 13 in this series, and because they’ve had incredible difficulty beating the Trojans between the lines, this reeks of desperation and UCLA trying to impose its will in any manner possible.
I’m aware there’s bad blood between the two teams and their fan bases. Two men were stabbed during last year’s game during a fight in the parking lot. That’s despicable and sad all at the same time, and UCLA’s request is an attempt to quell a mutiny before it happens.
Anyone who feels that the USC drum major’s actions are disrespectful is kidding them self. And anyone that responds with anger, vitriol or even violence needs to have their head checked.
USC doesn’t get off the hook for bonehead ideas, either. USC coach Lane Kiffin and athletic director Pat Haden got plenty of bad press earlier this season when they banned a member of the media for two games for reporting on injuries and later rescinded the ban.
Yet if UCLA wants to put USC in its place, it should do so with its football players. That will shut the Trojans and their fans up the proper way, by pointing to the scoreboard.
UCLA will have a chance to do so if quarterback Brett Hundley and running back Johnathan Franklin can outperform the USC trio of quarterback Matt Barkley and wide receivers Marqise Lee and Robert Woods. That’s easier said than done, but the Bruins appear to have the better chance of winning than they have in many, many years.
Where College Gameday Is At
The ESPN College Gameday crew will be in Eugene as Oregon hosts Stanford on Saturday evening in a game that represents perhaps the best chance of Oregon stubbing its toe and having its chances of an undefeated season ruined.
That’s not to intimate that I think Oregon will lose. Several times this season, teams have kept it close in the first half against the Ducks only to see them pull away in the second half.
I anticipate the same will happen on Saturday, but I also think Stanford will be able to keep it closer than many think possible.
The Cardinal have lost their last two games to the Ducks by a total of 44 points, but this a better Stanford defense than those previous versions. Stanford is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation in rushing defense (allowing only 58.6 yards per game), sacks (42) and tackles for a loss (91).
Linebackers Chase Thomas and Trent Murphy, along with defensive lineman Ben Gardner lead the charge for the Stanford defense (all three have double-digit tackles for a loss), but the speed of running backs Kenjon Barner and DeAnthony Thomas will be too much for the Cardinal to contain for a full 60 minutes.
And even if Stanford sells out to stop the run, Oregon freshman quarterback Marcus Mariota has shown he can beat a defense with the pass, but usually it’s the defense’s own undoing when they bring up safeties to stop the run and then get beat deep.
Prediction: Stanford can beat the spread, but they can’t beat the Ducks who will get a couple fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away. Ducks win 42-26. The game will be televised at 7:00 p.m. Central time on ABC.
The Wisconsin Connection
Saturday’s game between Wisconsin and Ohio State loses some its luster because the Buckeyes are ineligible for the postseason and are off the radar of the general football-watching public. But at least the action on the field should be no less prolific.
Attention will be on Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller who notably accounted for two fourth-quarter touchdowns to beat the Badgers last year and is on the Heisman Trophy radar this season.
The last time Wisconsin hosted Ohio State was two seasons ago in 2010. You might remember that as the time the Badgers upset the No. 1 ranked team in the nation.
One of the keys to that victory was containing quarterback Terrelle Pryor to the pocket and not letting him escape, which is the same thing Wisconsin must do on Saturday to Miller. Certainly, that will be a tall task.
In 2010 the Badgers had J.J. Watt. Meanwhile, the best defender at Wisconsin in 2012 might be middle linebacker Chris Borland who’s questionable with a hamstring injury. If the Badgers don’t have his services, the sledding gets even tougher.
It’s also Senior Day in Madison, which will be the last home game for running back Montee Ball. With 77 career touchdowns, Ball is one short of tying the NCAA record.
Ball’s decision to come back for his senior season was a head scratcher, but there’s no doubt he’s had a decorated four seasons in the red and white.
The game against Urban Meyer’s squad will determine whether Wisconsin is able to win against an upper-echelon team. The Badgers’ 7-3 record is nice, but their four wins in conference play (Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Indiana) have come against teams that are a combined 5-19 in the Big Ten.
Wisconsin must also fight against complacency. By defeating Indiana last week, they’ve already secured a spot in the conference championship.
Prediction: The Buckeyes will be motivated to come away from Madison with a win. Their undefeated record is on the line, and so might be Miller’s Heisman hopes. The Badgers will keep it close, but they’ll make one key mistake on each side of the football that will cost them the victory. Ohio State wins 28-24. The game will be televised on ABC/ESPN2 reverse mirror at 2:30 p.m. CT.
What Happened Before Saturday
North Carolina ended Virginia’s hopes of reaching a bowl game on Thursday evening, but even more interesting might be what Northern Illinois accomplished on Wednesday night.
By defeating Toledo 31-24, the Huskies wrapped up the MAC West division title and a spot in the conference championship. The potential is there to take on Kent State in the best title game in league history.
Dave Doeren left his post as Wisconsin’s defensive coordinator to become the head coach at Northern Illinois and has posted a 21-4 record since going to DeKalb.
Even more impressive is how he’s replaced quarterback Chandler Harnish who’s currently on the practice squad of the Indianapolis Colts. The Huskies haven’t skipped a beat with new trigger-puller Jordan Lynch.
Lynch threw for 407 yards and three touchdowns and also ran for 162 yards to get by the Rockets. On the season, he’s thrown for 2,582 yards for 22 touchdowns and four interceptions and has also rushed for 1,504 yards and 16 touchdowns and averages 7.0 yards per carry.
If Lynch played for a more visible team in a more visible conference, he’d be a Heisman Trophy candidate.
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.