The Battle for the Victory Bell between UCLA and USC is a matchup in which records go out the window in favor of a passionate rivalry capable of producing any result. While conference and division titles are not at stake in this game, both teams do have something to gain by winning. The Trojans are seeking to end a year filled with injuries and inner turmoil on a high note, while the Bruins are seeking bowl eligibility for the first time under head coach Chip Kelly.
UCLA (4-6, 4-3 Pac-12) has to win its final two games to compete in a bowl game without a waiver. Both of those games are firmly in the rivalry camp — the Trojans and the Cal Bears. While it’s a slightly uphill task, it’s certainly not impossible. Simply based on offense alone, the Bruins should have the firepower to outscore the Bears. Doing the same to USC is going to be tougher, but it’s not like Kelly doesn’t have ample experience beating the Trojans, including a victory to end the year in 2018.
The Trojans (7-4, 6-2) have already secured a winning season and recently entered the College Football Playoff rankings at No. 23, positioning themselves for a quality bowl in the process. While new athletic director Mike Bohn has settled into the job, Trojan head coach Clay Helton is fighting to secure his position going forward. A loss to UCLA would likely put the final nail in the coffin of Helton’s tenure.
What ultimately plays out on Saturday will have lasting implications for both teams. As the Bruins look to keep building, the Trojans are fighting to keep potential recruits. It’s all on the line on Saturday — jobs, bowl positioning, recruits and the football monopoly in Los Angeles. To the winner goes the Victory Bell and the bragging rights.
UCLA at USC
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m. ET
Spread: USC -14
When UCLA Has the Ball
Led by QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the Bruins offense has emerged from its early-season shell. After starting 2019 with four interceptions in his first three games, Thompson-Robinson had a five-game stretch in which he threw 12 touchdowns to four interceptions. As most people do, Thompson-Robinson struggled to get much of anything going last week Utah, throwing a pair of interceptions, completing only 55.9 percent of his passes, and losing 26 yards on 10 carries despite his mobility in the 49-3 loss.
After starting the year with three games under 100 yards, running back Joshua Kelley broke 120 yards four times in a five-game stretch prior to the Utah matchup. While Kelley managed 78 yards against the Utes, it was not enough for the Bruins to kickstart their offense. But if Thompson-Robinson can get the ball into the hands of receivers Demetric Felton and Kyle Phillips and big tight end target Devin Asiasi, the Bruins have the speed and talent to frustrate a Trojan defense that has been anything but rigid.
When USC Has the Ball
The ball is in the hands of Kedon Slovis on Saturday. Since JT Daniels went down with a season-ending knee injury, Slovis has stepped up to the point that there has been legitimate debate over whether or not Daniels should get the job back when he’s healthy. Slovis' understanding of the position, having been mentored by NFL Hall of Famer Kurt Warner, may put him in the lead coming into next year.
Then there is the play of freshman wide receiver Drake London, who happens to be Slovis’ roommate. London has garnered Pac-12 Freshman of the Week honors in back-to-back weeks, and he is asserting himself rather well in a lineup that already includes stud wideouts like Michael Pittman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tyler Vaughns. Add in the play of Kenan Christon at running back and the potential return of bruising runner Vavae Malepeai, and the Trojans will have quality assets all over the field.
Despite having different records, the Bruins and Trojans are actually pretty close in overall stats. The Trojans have the advantage in categories like total offensive yards, total passing yards and rushing yards per game, but the disparity between the two teams isn’t too great. What gives the Trojans the biggest advantage is the play of Kedon Slovis coupled with the talent of his offensive weapons. If Slovis can muster a repeat of last week’s performance against Cal, it’s highly likely that the Trojans will see similar results.
Prediction: USC 38, UCLA 17
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @FightOnTwist.