UCLA football newcomers, veterans reflect on storied rivalry with USC
The Victory Bell is pictured. The bell is currently painted blue after UCLA football’s win over USC a season ago. (Daily Bruin file photo)
By Francis Moon
Nov. 17, 2022 3:46 p.m.
This post was updated Nov. 17 at 10:18 p.m.
Los Angeles is home to one of the most iconic rivalries in all of collegiate athletics.
With campuses located just over 14 miles away from each other, the Bruins vs. Trojans rivalry features two of the three winningest athletic programs in the country, and respective students and fans are taught to resent their neighbors across town.
The rivalry goes far beyond just one sport, but No. 16 UCLA football gets its annual chance to claim the Victory Bell for Westwood with a win over No. 7 USC on Saturday and come one step closer to claiming a conference title for the first time since 1998.
For many Bruins who grew up in Southern California, the contention between the blue and gold and the cardinal and gold has been ingrained since as early as they can remember, particularly for student-athletes who rose through the ranks of LA football together.
Coach Chip Kelly said the proximity of the crosstown rivals’ campuses adds a uniquely personal aspect for these players, as they line up against familiar faces such as former teammates.
“I’m not sure there’s another game where the schools are so close,” Kelly said. “A lot of our kids played high school ball with a lot of their kids, either against them or growing up in the Pop Warner ranks.”
Though he transferred to UCLA from Michigan prior to the 2021 season and will be playing in just his second bout against USC, Zach Charbonnet is one of those players. The senior running back hails from Southern California and attended Oaks Christian High School, located less than 30 miles from Westwood.
Charbonnet said being a Bruin gives him a special chance to be a part of a tradition he has been familiar with since his childhood and even play against his high school teammates.
But he won’t be reaching out for pleasantries in anticipation of the crosstown clash.
“There’s a couple guys I went to high school with,” Charbonnet said. “But nah, especially this week, nah, having no contact with them, and I don’t plan on it either.”
But not all Bruins hail from the City of Angels or have experience with the rivalry. For instance, UCLA boasts a multitude of transfers who will be getting introduced to the historic rivalry this week.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Kam Brown, who grew up in Texas and transferred from Texas A&M in 2021, said it did not take long for him to understand the significance of the rivalry to fans and players alike.
“All these guys become your brothers, so if it’s a problem for them, it starts to become a problem for you,” Brown said. “As soon as you hit the field, it’s one of those things – you start to hear chirping on both sides of the ball.”
The Trojans currently lead the all-time series 49-33-7, excluding two vacated games by USC as a penalty by the NCAA, though the blue and gold claimed the most recent win in convincing fashion last year. But prior to the 62-33 Bruins’ win in 2021, three of the four most recent matchups were decided by seven points or less.
For a while, it looked like this game could carry College Football Playoff implications for both teams, making it the most important crosstown showdown in recent memory. But with the Bruins faltering last week against Arizona and erasing their chances, they now have an opportunity to nullify the Trojans’ hopes as well.
Despite the loss to the Wildcats, redshirt senior wide receiver Jake Bobo said the buildup to this week has not been ruined by the loss, with the team not missing a beat in its mental preparation.
“The blessing is that it’s this game that comes after that one,” Bobo said. “It’s hard not to get up for this game. Even coming off a loss, guys are excited, guys are ready to go.”