Today ought to be as good as it gets for the UCLA-USC rivalry, with UCLA's national championship hopes at stake in addition to the usual city bragging rights.
There's just one thing preventing this matchup from being perfect: a sound R. Jay Soward.
When USC's wide receiver/kick returner extraordinaire suffered a sprained ankle at Stanford two weeks ago, he took some of the excitement to the sideline with him.
Everyone should want to see Soward at full strength. USC needs his big-play potential. For UCLA fans, if the Bruins beat the Trojans with Soward in the lineup it adds a little more credence to their Fiesta Bowl candidacy.
We still don't know for sure how much or even if Soward can play today. He has spent most of the recent practices running by himself, then heading in for treatment.
And in a week that usually brings out the best quotes, the most talkative college football player in town turned into a mime. Every living person who ever participated in the UCLA-USC game has been heard from over the past few days except Soward.
It's up to Coach Paul Hackett to provide the daily updates on Soward's condition, and after Hackett lied about his decision to start Carson Palmer at quarterback a couple of weeks ago, he isn't the most credible source.
"I'm being very honest with you," Hackett asserted Thursday. "I would be shocked if [Soward] ended up in street clothes."
If Soward does play, Hackett said he won't return kicks, which takes away some of the fun. He already has two punt-return touchdowns this season, one shy of the Pacific 10 Conference record. An SC game with Soward running pass patterns and not returning kicks is like a Janet Jackson concert with her singing and not dancing.
So pressing a matter is Soward's ankle that when Hackett met with reporters after practice, the first 10 questions were all about Soward.
It took Hackett a while before he could finally get to the real question of the week, which is how UCLA's potent offense will fare against USC's tough defense.
Hackett said his team can't get caught up in focusing solely on UCLA's No. 18, meaning Cade McNown. If Soward were injury-free, UCLA Coach Bob Toledo would probably be saying the same thing about the man who wears No. 18 for USC.
The Trojans don't have names on their jerseys and sometimes it gets confusing. That's never a concern on plays involving Soward, though. If a guy with an untucked No. 18 is doing something spectacular, you know it has to be Soward.
But Soward hasn't been able to make that jersey number stick in the minds of fans across the nation this season. What could have been his breakthrough year has suffered a couple of breakdowns.
Soward's academic shortcomings in the spring led Hackett to suspend him for the season-opening Pigskin Classic on Aug. 30, when the Trojans had the college football stage to themselves.
When he hit the field again on Sept. 12, he had 256 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns against San Diego State, but it came in a game that began after 10 p.m. on the East Coast.
In his first test against top competition, he produced only a 20-yard run, a 25-yard kickoff return and a five-yard reception against Florida State.
His 229 yards against California, including an 80-yard punt return for a touchdown, were overshadowed by USC's fourth-quarter collapse in a 32-31 loss.
The UCLA game usually serves as Soward's showcase. Five of the 20 longest plays in Soward's career have come against the Bruins. He caught six passes for 260 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 1996. Last year, he scored on an 80-yard pass play.
Knowing Soward's flair for the dramatic, it's not too hard to envision the following scenario:
UCLA scores a touchdown to go ahead by four in the last minute. Ignoring Hackett and the team doctors, Soward takes the field for the ensuing kickoff. UCLA's Chris Sailer kicks off. Soward takes it at the five . . . .
From there, you can let your imagination run wild. It would be better if Soward were doing the running.
J.A. Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org