This Saturday UCLA plays USC at the Rose Bowl in a football rivalry that dates back to 1929, which was the year of the Great Depression. The Bruins must have been in a depression of their own because USC won the first two games by a combined total of 128-0. (And I gather it wasn’t really that close.)

The games were so one-sided that they didn’t resume the series until 1936. Today, the Bruin football program is once again struggling. But, to Trojan fans, I’m willing to make this offer. For the next two games against SC, I’ll bet on UCLA and take the 128 points. Call me wacky or just a loyal UCLA alum. (OK, wacky.)

What separates this year’s game from any since 1980, at least, is that there’s no National Championship, Pac 10 Championship or Rose Bowl at stake. The only bowl game up for grabs might be the “Tidy Bowl.” You see USC has been declared bowl ineligible by the NCAA for numerous rules violations. And UCLA is ineligible because, and I hate to say this, they stink.

The infractions at SC included Reggie Bush’s mother and step-father receiving free rent, basketball star O.J. Mayo receiving free cash and football running back Joe McKnight receiving free use of a $40,000 SUV, even while the NCAA investigation was going on! Now that’s Trojan chutzpah. Remarkably, however, former coach Pete Carroll still maintains he didn’t see a thing. Two words, Pete: Lasik surgery.

On top of the actual violations, Reggie Bush lied to the NCAA investigators. But former athletic director Mike Garrett is of the opinion that the sanctions were imposed on USC because other schools are jealous of SC. He claims that the whole affair only proved that “USC is bigger than life.” No, Mike. I think your response proved that your ego is bigger than life.

For UCLA fans it’s not only depressing how badly this year turned out, it’s shocking given their coaching talent. (Or lack thereof?) Norm Chow, UCLA’s offensive coordinator, has worked with numerous Heisman Trophy winners at schools like Brigham Young and USC.

And Rick Neuheisal, UCLA’s head coach, was a winner at Colorado and Washington. Putting these two seemingly great resumes together has yielded, for lack of a better term, bupkes.

Neuheisal was quoted this week as saying if UCLA doesn’t make a bowl game next year he “will be crushed.” He won’t just be crushed, he will be unemployed. Rick, if you’re going to be crushed, why don’t you start now and join me? (And stop yelling at the UCLA quarterbacks on the sidelines. It looks terrible and obviously doesn’t help.)

So, you can see why the results of tomorrow’s game will not exactly be Earth shattering. Even the students don’t seem very excited. There’s a long-standing tradition, that, during the week before the game, members of each student body try to paint graffiti on each other’s cherished icons. For SC it’s the statue of Tommy Trojan, and for UCLA it’s the famed Bruin Bear statue. Rumor is, this year, neither student body wants to waste the paint. (Or the gas money to drive across town.)

After 79 games of this rivalry, USC has won 44, UCLA has won 28 and there have been 7 ties. Despite the disparity, it’s UCLA that has the longest winning streak, eight years, and the only overtime win which was in 1996. That game ended UCLA 48, SC 41. I never tire of writing that particular score.

SC, of course, had an incredible run during the Pete “See no evil, hear no evil” Carroll era. Boy, did he slip out of Dodge at the right time or what? Carroll’s only blemish against UCLA was in 2006 (which feels more like 1956) when UCLA won 13-9 over a much more talented SC team.

The truth is, SC always seems more talented. That is, except during a short stretch during the ‘80s, and a longer stretch in the ‘90s. The names Ted Tollner and Larry Smith (SC’s head coaches) still give me fond memories. And then of course, there was way back in 1954 (Ike was president) when UCLA shared a National Championship in football. Or so they tell me.

In basketball, UCLA has 11 national championships whereas USC has none. (In 1950 and 1954 they did make it to the Final Four only to lose both semi-final games.)

As a UCLA alum, I’d love to trade a few of the basketball championships for a couple of football titles. I mean, with 11 banners hanging up in Pauley Pavilion, who’s going to miss three? Eight is still a whole bunch. Of course this is a ridiculous hypothetical because UCLA has integrity and ethical standards. Unless of course, Reggie Bush has a younger brother and his mother and step-father still need free housing.

Jack can be reached at Jnsmdp@aol.com.

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