Why It’s Bigger For Kiffin Than Neuheisel
On the surface, this version of the USC-UCLA rivalry is a game with little more than city pride at stake.
But if you examine a little deeper, you realize it’s bigger than that. Especially for the coaches.
For Rick Neuhiesel, it’s a chance for redemption, an opportunity to strike one last positive chord in an otherwise negative season.
But for Lane Kiffin, it’s more meaningful. UCLA comes in the underdog and is expected to lose. If it happens, Neuhiesel won’t take much more heat than he already has, unless it’s a blowout. If he loses, say, 24-17, it won’t be too damaging.
Kiffin, in his first year at USC, still hasn’t defined himself. Working under difficult circumstances, he lost one game, against Washington at home, that he shouldn’t have, but through his first 10 games, his 7-3 record was considered somewhat impressive.
Unfortunately, then came games 11 and 12. In the past two weeks, the Trojans not only have lost, they have stunk it up. They have gone from a relatively thin but exciting team that could score points against anybody to a lifeless, punchless group that has manufactured only one real touchdown drive in the past eight quarters.
In the first 10 games, Kiffin’s playcalling was a revelation compared to what now departed Jeremy Bates produced in 2009. But in the past two games, the Trojans’ so-called offensive guru has gone strangely conservative, failing to throw downfield much and demonstrating little of the creativity we saw early.
Injuries, especially to his starting quarterback and tailback, have hurt. But he has enough quality athletes to compete better than USC did in either Corvallis or against Notre Dame.
Trojan boosters, now not sure what to think of him, could live with that last loss against the Irish if Kiffin comes back and takes it to UCLA. But should he wind up losing to both longtime rivals, well . . .
Let’s just say it will make for a long, uncomfortable offseason.
PICKS OF THE WEEK — We went 1-1 last week, when USC forgot to throw downfield against Notre Dame until it was too late. The Texans got us even on Sunday when they not only shut down but shut out the Titans and Rusty Smith. So now we go into what will be our last week of picks, since it is the final full week of college football. The good news is, at four games up, we’re guaranteed to finish over .500. The bad news is that the final trimmed down week for the colleges make these maybe the most difficult picks yet. Not to worry. We will give it our best shot.
SOUTH CAROLINA (plus 5) VS. AUBURN — This is one of those go with your gut picks. Cam Newton and Co. are playing for huge stakes here and certainly will be motivated. But they’ll also be feeling more pressure than at any time this season. Carolina’s Steve Spurrier knows how to get his team up for big games. He did it once already this year, beating Alabama by two touchdowns. No reason he can’t do it again. These two teams met earlier this year, and Auburn had to come from behind to win. Newton, the odds-on choice for the Heisman, has done it all year, but at some point, the breaks have to go the other way. The Gamecocks’ tailback Marcus Lattimore is the best freshman running back in the country. If he has a 150-yard day, this could be the upset of the year, and the BCS bowl outlook would be back to its old chaotic self.
RAMS (minus 3) AT CARDINALS — This isn’t so much a pick for L.A.’s old team as it is a vote against an Arizona defense that might be the worst in the NFL. Derek Anderson apparently is the only one smiling on the Cardinals these days, and for good reason. Rookie of the Year Sam Bradford and friends, with a real shot to win the terrible NFC West, should be able to cover.
RECORD LAST WEEK: 1-1 OVERALL RECORD: 13-9-2
— STEVE BISHEFF