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November 27, 2009

UCLA to battle USC

Game Ticker

USC began the season looking for an eighth straight Pac-10 title and eighth consecutive BCS bowl appearance.

After its second blowout loss in three weeks, the Trojans are simply trying to get into the best lower-tier bowl that they can.

With its worst ranking in seven years, No. 24 USC tries to regroup Saturday against crosstown rival UCLA, which needs a win in its finale to increase its bowl chances.

After earning its seventh consecutive top-four finish in the AP poll last season, USC (7-3, 4-3) was again expected to contend for a national title with a No. 4 ranking in the preseason poll. The Trojans, however, have three losses for the first time since going 6-6 in 2001, Pete Carroll's first year as coach.

Carroll's Trojans began their run as one of college football's best programs in 2002, but this year's team will end its season without a BCS bowl appearance or league title. USC, which wraps up its regular season against Arizona next week, was still in the mix for both entering its game against then-No. 25 Stanford on Nov. 14, but was pounded 55-21.

The defeat dropped the Trojans, coming off a bye week, 11 spots to 22nd in the poll. They hadn't been lower than 13th since October 2002.

"I'm not sure I have the right words to describe being humbled like this,'' Carroll said. "I don't really know where to put it. We have fallen apart and given our opponents the opportunity to do whatever they want."

Two weeks after yielding 613 yards in 47-20 loss at then-No. 10 Oregon, the Trojans' defense was again embarrassed, giving up the most points in school history.

"We came out there, and there was something wrong," safety Taylor Mays said. "It is very disappointing. It's almost sickening. To be a senior and leave a legacy like this, it's sickening."

The offense wasn't much better with quarterback Matt Barkley having his third straight unimpressive game. He went 21 of 31 for 196 yards, but threw one touchdown and three interceptions. His turnovers on USC's first two drives put the Trojans in an early 14-0 hole.

Carroll has stuck with the freshman all season although he is averaging only 165.0 passing yards in his last three games, with four TDs and five picks in that span.

Barkley could again have trouble getting in rhythm against a UCLA defense that has forced 10 turnovers in the last two games.

The Bruins (6-5, 3-5) are bowl eligible after defeating Arizona State 23-13 last Saturday - their third straight victory following a six-game skid - but they still aren't terribly bowl-attractive.

That could change with a victory at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

UCLA, which missed out on a bowl last year, is seventh in the conference. Only the top six teams in the Pac-10 are guaranteed a bowl berth.

"I mentioned right after the game to our team that I hope that all works itself out," coach Rick Neuheisel said. "We can certainly help it work out by being successful this week."

UCLA hasn't had much success against its crosstown rival lately, though. The Trojans defeated the Bruins 28-7 last season and have won nine of 10.

Although USC has dominated the series recently, UCLA has been playing well while the Trojans' confidence is clearly shaken.

The Bruins' defense allowed more than 27 points once this season and is giving up an average of 14.3 during its winning streak. USC's once-powerful offense averaged 18.3 points in its last three.

"We just have a lot of energy these days," UCLA senior linebacker Reggie Carter said. "Guys are confident they can make plays. Everybody wants to be the one who makes that tackle or catches the interception. We're playing on a higher level now than earlier in the season."



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