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ROSE BOWL SHOWDOWNS : Anything Goes, but Will the Trojans? : USC-UCLA: Only USC has shot at Rose Bowl, but series has a history of the unexpected.


Here are some numbers:

USC is 7-2, 6-1 in the Pacific 10; UCLA is 4-6, 2-5 in the conference.

USC leads the series, 34-22-7, but UCLA has won the last three meetings.

USC can go to the Rose Bowl, given help at Corvallis, Ore., but UCLA is going nowhere after today. When they can go to the Rose Bowl and UCLA cannot, the Trojans are 3-0-1 against the Bruins.

Consider all of those numbers.

Then throw them away.

This is a series that defies numbers and defines heroes. Heisman Trophy winners have played against one another, but the game has also produced Norman Dow and John Barnes.

UCLA receiver Bryan Adams is trying to come back from an injury and play, but Coach Terry Donahue has his doubts. Still, "he could play and, who knows, he could catch a pass and be a hero," Donahue said. "It's that kind of series."

To cut through the lore to the facts, USC has won five consecutive games since losing to Oregon, 22-7, on Oct. 1. That loss could come back to haunt the Trojans. If Oregon beats Oregon State in Corvallis today, the Ducks will go to the Rose Bowl as the Pac-10 champion, no matter what USC does. Also, if USC loses, Oregon goes.

Oregon last played in the Rose Bowl in 1958, with end John Robinson. Now the coach at USC, Robinson won't have his head or his heart in Corvallis today, wondering about the fates of his alma mater and his employer.

"I'm kind of fatalistic about that," Robinson said. "I like the idea of just playing this game and giving the game the credit it's due. It's that game that's important, and if you win that game, that's enough."

Over the last five games, the Trojans have shown continued improvement, blending newcomers such as wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson with a nucleus that is led by quarterback Rob Johnson and tackle Tony Boselli.

The emphasis has been on the offense, particularly since USC hammered Arizona's vaunted defense a week ago, 45-28.

"But I've been most impressed by the improvement in their defense," Donahue said. "I think the defense has made the most improvement."

After struggling in early games against Washington and Penn State, USC's defense has become respectable, still giving up points but proving opportunistic, with 15 interceptions. Johnson has thrown only three.

"When I saw them early in the season, I said, 'This is a defense I would like to throw against,' " Bruin quarterback Wayne Cook said. "Now, I'm not so sure."

He has become more sure of himself, though. Cook and the Bruins struggled through a six-game losing streak that ruined their season, but UCLA has won two in a row, including a 59-23 victory at Arizona State last week.

And in his last four games, Cook has completed 70 of 114 passes for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns, without an interception.

The Bruins are on a roll, but so is USC.

"We are peaking," Robinson said.

Rob Johnson has sat out two of the last five games because of an ankle injury, but in the three others he completed 52 of 76 passes for 826 yards and seven touchdowns, with only one interception.

He completed 15 in a row in the second half against Arizona before re-injuring the ankle.

There's also the thought that he would like to make amends for last season's UCLA-USC game, when his pass into the end zone was intercepted by Marvin Goodwin with 50 seconds to play, preserving a 27-21 UCLA victory.

The pass has haunted Johnson, but not Robinson.

"He got us down to the goal line, got us in a position to win and I called a lousy play," Robinson said. "I told him after the game, 'Hey, I don't feel sorry for you. You're the luckiest guy in the world to get a chance, and when you get in the NFL, you're going to get more chances. If you're a big-time player, you screw up in key things . . . but if you're there often enough, you make the play. That's how you measure greatness.' "

At UCLA, it measures 6 feet 5. That's J.J. Stokes' height, and his return to the lineup after a nagging leg injury is the major reason for the Bruins' resurgence.

But even with all of their passing potential, Donahue says that the Trojans are still the traditional Trojans.

"You have to consider SC's desire to control the line of scrimmage," he said. "Deep down inside, they want to maul you."

With that in mind, UCLA still thinks run first while on defense. Because the Bruins have been porous against the run, USC's Shawn Walters, with his 890 yards, has to be eager.

"We want to shut that off and make Johnson beat us," linebacker Rod Smalley said.

Robinson isn't buying anything UCLA has to sell.

"UCLA has the kind of defense to get you all out of whack," he said. "They send eight or nine guys (after the quarterback). They send Terry Donahue. They're all trying to get in the quarterback's face."

Besides Cook and receivers Stokes and Kevin Jordan, USC also has to deal with the Bruins' Sharmon Shah, who has rushed for 1,092 yards, including 180 last week against Arizona State.

A shootout in Pasadena? Maybe.

"If you look at the defenses of both teams, you have to think that both can move the ball against the other," Donahue said. "In looking at the SC game, we have to hope we can generate enough offense to offset their offense. If our offense gets shut down, with what they can do offensively, it's going to be a long day."

Don't look for that, Robinson said.

"I think it's an even game, and I don't think there's a favorite, not because of emotion or any of that stuff, but because I think both teams are about the same," he said. "Both have good passing and good running. Both have wide receivers who can become the dominant players in the game."

So who will step up? Will it be Cook or Rob Johnson? Stokes or Keyshawn Johnson? A defender? Or somebody who has the day of his life? It's UCLA-USC, a game that always seems to produce a hero.

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