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Trojans approach game with records in jeopardy, but are no less a threat

By Sara Salam

Nov. 23, 2009 11:43 p.m.

For Alterraun Verner, a freshman at the time, UCLA’s 13-9 win over USC at the Rose Bowl in 2006 stands alone as his most memorable moment as a Bruin athlete.

“(That win) is definitely something I will always relish,” he said.

Verner would like to end his career at UCLA feeling a similar sort of satisfaction.

On Saturday, the Bruins (6-5, 3-5 Pac-10) will travel nine miles down the I-10 and meet the Trojans (7-3, 4-3) in the 79th edition of the Los Angeles rivalry at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

A tradition since 1929, the crosstown rivalry represents the conclusion of the UCLA football team’s 2009 regular season. After Saturday, the Bruins’ season will be in the hands of bowl organizers across the country.

But for now, the Bruins remain focused on the task at hand: an upset at the Coliseum.

“Saturday night is going to be one of the most exciting games you’ll ever be a part of,” coach Rick Neuheisel said to his players after UCLA’s win over Arizona State on Saturday.

This year’s rivalry game, however, presents an unusual challenge.

USC’s 2009 season has digressed from a tradition of football dominance.

From 2002 to 2008, USC maintained a streak of seven consecutive Pac-10 crowns, Bowl Championship Series game berths, 11-win seasons and a season-ending rank within the Associated Press Top 4.

In 2009, the Trojans enter the rivalry game with all those records in jeopardy.

Six teams are viable candidates for the Pac-10 title.

USC’s prospects of an 11-win season ended on Halloween night in Eugene, Ore. A trip to a BCS bowl and a top-four finish are virtually impossible.

USC’s most recent defeat at the hands of Stanford, 55-21, on Nov. 14 signaled its worst home loss since 1966.

According to Verner, USC’s legacy remains intact. The crosstown rival poses no less a threat to UCLA as it did when USC won back-to-back national titles in 2003 and 2004.

“I don’t think one game, one year, one anything can define a legacy, or hurt it or heighten it,” Verner said. “This season could just be a blemish on that legacy.”

Senior wide receiver Terrence Austin points to the stark competition in the Pac-10 as evidence of USC’s recent blunders.

“The Pac-10 is tough, especially this season,” Austin said.

“USC has been on top, and everyone is fighting to get them. With every game their legacy is at stake.”

Like UCLA, USC has experienced some instability at the quarterback position.

USC freshman Matt Barkley, a 19-year-old from Newport Beach is the third quarterback in four years the Bruins will face in the Trojans’ starting lineup. Last season, Mark Sanchez filled the role as signal-caller. In 2006 and 2007, John David Booty commanded the offense.

In 2009, Barkley has completed 57.9 percent of his pass attempts. He has thrown 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

UCLA’s quarterback in redshirt freshman Kevin Prince shares a near-identical pass completion rate but only has six touchdowns and five interceptions to his credit because of his two-game absence early in the season.

Neuheisel stands by his focus on self-improvement and worrying about only what his team is capable of ““ not the caliber of the opponent or where his team measures up.

“Being superman is not required to get things accomplished,” Neuheisel said.

“It’s concentration, going out and letting it happen.”

Bruins to wear blue

The Bruins will don their home uniforms for the rivalry game at the Coliseum.

The Trojans showed up to the Rose Bowl last year wearing their cardinal and gold jerseys.

USC coach Pete Carroll announced the Monday prior to the game that he would forfeit a time-out to offset the penalty UCLA will suffer for not wearing the appropriate uniform.

Neuheisel called a time-out immediately after to offset the lost time-out.

“The colors are absolutely beautiful together,” Neuheisel said. “They just jump off the screen, and that was before HD.”

Scheduling insights

This weekend’s rivalry game will be the first in 30 years to take place during Thanksgiving weekend.

The 7 p.m. start time is also the second-latest start ever for the series.

The Trojans are coming off two weeks of rest after taking their second bye this past Saturday. USC will end its season hosting Arizona on Dec. 5.

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Sara Salam
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