The Most Meaningless USC-UCLA Game Ever?
November 19, 2018

It used to be appointment viewing. Part of the cornucopia of the Thanksgiving weekend college football menu. Yeah, there were games like Auburn-Alabama, Texas-Texas A&M, and Oklahoma-Nebraska (if you remember back that far), but the can't miss doubleheader was Ohio State-Michigan followed by USC-UCLA. In some cases, the winners of those two games would play in the Rose Bowl.

Now, not only was the battle of the Los Angeles schools not even played on Thanksgiving weekend, but a week before the weekend-before-Thanksgiving game, the time and channel for the Trojans versus the Bruins was 'to be announced'. Clearly something is amiss, and a closer look at two teams shows that the game really wasn't worthy of a highly-promoted prime time national audience.

Looks can be deceiving, however, and they were in this case. Fox carried the game in it's 12:30pm PT time slot, and a decent-sized crowd turned out at the Rose Bowl to see UCLA (2-8 on the year) host hated rival USC (5-5). In recent memory, unless USC was on probation for recruiting violations or illegal payments or something, was this game to determine absolutely nothing. The conference championship game looks like it's going to be Utah against Washington or Washington State, and who knew that the so-called Apple Cup game between the Washington schools (Friday at 5:30pm on Fox) would have a bigger meaning?

The matchup was a dog, but the game wasn't. (Trying not to bury the lead here,) UCLA won 34-27 in a game that saw the lead change hands five times. The Bruins saw an early 14-3 lead disappear, and the Trojans go into the locker room at halftime leading 24-21. After an 'SC field goal, the Bruins came back with a touchdown to go up 28-27, and never trailed again. Bruins running back Joshua Kelley (from Lancaster—shout out to the Antelope Valley) carried the ball 40 times and rushed for 289 yards and two touchdowns.

In rivalry games, there is always something to play for. This year may not be about winning a division or a conference championship or a trip to the Rose Bowl, but at least there's the Victory Bell. That's the trophy that goes to the winner, even though the story goes that the bell, dating back to the late 1800s, actually belonged to UCLA in the first place. So there is the bell thing, but to the victor goes the spoils.

Think of this from the UCLA perspective. The Bruins are now 3-8, which only means they had a bad year. But beating USC means the Trojans fall to 5-6, and if they lose to Notre Dame next week, which is likely, 'SC won't be bowl eligible. There are also rumblings that coach Clay Helton might get fired. That happened to UCLA last year right after the big game. If you're UCLA and you lose to USC three years in a row, the coach is gone. If you are USC, finish under .500 and lose to the Bruins, that probably means some sort of change too.

It is something, but too bad the game wasn't more meaningful, and on Thanksgiving Saturday following Ohio State-Michigan, where it belongs.

It lived up to the hype and more: Meanwhile, just more than 48 hours later and about ten miles away, the Los Angeles Rams just defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 54-51. It was the highest-scoring NFL Monday night game ever, and the third- highest in league history. The battle of the two 9-1 teams had two ties and six lead changes, with four of those in the fourth quarter and the teams combined for 1001 yards. While the game was supposed to be played in Mexico City, but returned to Los Angeles because of poor field conditions, the Coliseum may have been the loudest its been in a long time. It was also the first Monday night game played by the Rams in Los Angeles since 1979—the year they went to the Super Bowl against Pittsburgh.

Just give us a chance: Kudos to ABC(/ESPN) for showing Central Florida vs. Cincinnati Saturday night. UCF is now unbeaten in 23 straight games dating back to last year, but will unlikely get to play for a national championship. The UCF Knights got to play in prime time on a national stage, and didn't disappoint with a dominating 38-13 win.

Yankees deal for Paxton: Baseball likes to refer to their off season as the 'hot stove', but with the recent wildfires, we'll refrain from using that term. However, the first blockbuster deal of the fall/winter has gone down, with Seattle trading pitcher James Paxton to the Yankees for three minor leaguers, including highly-touted left-handed pitching prospect Justus Sheffield.

Pardon this college basketball broadcast: If you are a fan of the ESPN talk program Pardon The Interruption (also known as PTI), you'll love this. Checking the TV listings Friday afternoon, I noticed a college basketball game between Northwestern and Binghamton airing on ESPN News. Northwestern is where one PTI host, Michael Wilbon, went to college, and Binghamton is the other host Tony Kornheiser's alma mater. Sure enough, the two were both serving as color commentators on the broadcast. Even stranger, the play-by-play guy was Will Flemming, and even if you haven't heard of him (and I hadn't), you knew right away by his voice that he had to be San Francisco Giants broadcaster Dave Flemming's brother. He is, and he's three years younger than Dave, and is a minor league baseball broadcaster.

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