Breaking down USC’s Pac-12 finale against UCLA

USC will face UCLA at the Coliseum in their final regular season game in the Pac-12.

LOS ANGELES — I don’t think this is the farewell match-up either of these two programs had in mind when the season started, but here we sit with the Trojans and Bruins squaring off in what could be the final games in Southern California for both Caleb Williams AND Chip Kelly. The narratives have been ugly for both teams, as the Trojans fired defensive coordinator Alex Grinch a few weeks ago, and the Bruins have lost 3 of their last 5, dropping a combined 17 points in the previous two weeks; to boot the Trojans have lost 4 of their last 5, with the one win being that game against Cal…Gulp. What we can say is, if this game is anything like last year’s thriller, we’re in for a fun Saturday afternoon. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Bad Timing?

Heading into the season, we talked about USC and UCLA ditching the PAC-12 for greener pastures in the Big 10. While it’ll be beneficial from a visibility and marketability standpoint, these two teams are picking the wrong time to go cold ahead of the big move. Now, if it were just USC and UCLA venturing off to the Big10 and taking the reins of the Big10 West, then I’d say they’d be in business. The Big 10 West not having any of the (current) Big Three (OSU, MICH, PSU) makes it ripe for the taking, but Washington and Oregon, the two best PAC-12 programs, are also in the mix. If USC (and UCLA) couldn’t get it done in the PAC-12 this season while having the Nation’s best QB, how will they fair going forward in a Juiced Big 10? I’m not saying they’re sitting ducks, but in a year with massive turnover, this was poor timing to go backward as a program. On the subject of a downturn, you have to be uninspired by Lincoln’s recruiting this season after having so much success in 2023. Hopefully, Lemon can come in next season, do the impossible of filling Williams’ shoes, and set things back on track. But all in all, it must be said that this was a bad year to have a down year on many levels. You hate to see the USC football program have so many questions and uncertainties as they embark on such a massive change.

Swan Song

This could be the final game we see for several players in Cardinal & Gold. If USC wins and has a fun bowl match-up, some of these guys may play, but I doubt it. It’s been said that Caleb Williams will decide whether he wants to go pro after Thanksgiving, but I’d be thoroughly shocked if he decides to return for his senior season. Callen Bullock will be one of the first Safeties drafted, so I anticipate him not risking anything in a bowl game come December—Ditto with Marshawn Lloyd, who had a tremendous lone season for USC running the football. I think Brendan Rice has down enough to be a late-day two-pick, and playing a game without Williams wouldn’t do him any good, so I expect Saturday to be his last game as a Trojan. Tahj Washington is an interesting case, but he needs all the help he can get, and I’m not sure what a game with a backup QB under-center does for his draft stock, so I think Saturday’s contest will also be the last time we see Tahj Washington. The most significant question marks are Mario Williams and Dorian Singer. Both have the talent to be drafted; I just don’t know when. Singer will likely sit, but Mario is up in the air for me. Admittedly, it was an underwhelming season for the wide-out who came with Riley and Williams to SoCal, but I don’t know how much better he will fare next season. So, I think Saturday is the last time we see USC’s QB1, RB1, and top-4 WR’s in Cardinal and Gold.

Who will win the PAC-12 Finale?

We’ve picked the Trojans every time, so why stop here? I think USC edges out their foe and even covers the 5.5 spread. Yes, the Trojan defense makes every offense look great, but Chip Kelly’s crew has nothing going on right now. And if it’s the end of the college road for all the aforementioned players above, expect the Trojans’ first-team offense to explode like we know they can. Williams won’t win another Heisman. He unfortunately won’t win a Natty, playoff game, or even the PAC-12 title. But he can lock up the first overall pick with one more masterful performance. Any suggestion of Maye or Marvin Harrison Jr. jumping Caleb is crazy to me, but it’d be nice to see number 13 ball in the coliseum and leave no doubt. Last year, Caleb threw for 400 yards; here’s to him doing the same. It’ll be interesting to see if fellow projected top-10 pick EDGE Laiatu Latu can get in the mix for UCLA, but outside of that, the Trojans’ offense packs a lot more talent than UCLA’s defense.

USC 45 UCLA 27 is the final score prediction.