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T.J. SIMERS

These mediocre teams don't deserve to be the talk of the town

November 29, 2009|T.J. Simers

The week began with an emphasis on fiction, the newspaper headlines reading: "For UCLA and USC, Momentum Moves Across Town,"and "This City Could Be UCLA's For The Taking."

It ended -- or so everyone thought until both teams threatened to riot -- with a reality check, and so now we know: Both UCLA and USC are really nothing special this season.

The only thing going in their favor: Pete Carroll will now be accused of poor sportsmanship for piling on, and no one will dwell very long on the miserable football game played here.

Carroll's postgame explanation for pulling a Jim Harbaugh and trying to run up the score with a bomb in the final seconds rings hollow, of course, given his irritation with the Stanford coach two weeks ago.

He says it was all about competing, his lifelong mantra, pointing out the media will probably come to a different conclusion, but all that matters is competing in the moment. It was a nice speech, but had this been a game of Monopoly, there would be no reason to keep playing.

Later, Coach Rick Neuheisel would make no big deal of the final TD that would give USC a 21-point margin of victory, but as tacky as the touchdown call, the Trojans' taunt that followed was just as classless.

Maybe that's what a rivalry is supposed to be, or some people think so, rubbing the opponent's nose in defeat, but this didn't feel right when it was all over.

I've come to expect more from Carroll, and although fun in its execution, he should have killed the idea when it came through his headset.

Oh, well, it really was an awful night. It's one thing to play this rivalry at night, but both of these outfits acted as if they were playing with the lights turned out.

It'd be considered a defensive struggle if someone put an offense on the field, but this had the feel of a preseason scrimmage.

I begin with UCLA, their supporters and everyone else duped into thinking the Bruins were making progress because they came into this game beating three teams that haven't won a game between them in a month.

Take Washington, Washington State and Tennessee off the schedule, and the Bruins under Neuheisel are 4-14 rather than 10-14. Two years into Neuheisel's run here and the Bruins have beaten only one team that went on to end the season with a winning record.

If winning conference games means everything, the Bruins managed to win six of them in two years -- not a one of the opponents they defeated packing a winning record. The Pac-10 has a tie to six different bowl games; the Bruins will finish seventh.

Their six wins overall this season to become bowl-eligible came against teams with a combined mark of 27-42. Good thing they had San Diego State on their schedule, or this might have been the first time in years they didn't qualify two straight years for a bowl game.

The scoreboard in this one might indicate the Bruins have closed the gap with USC, fiction once again about the only thing UCLA fans can grasp on to these days.

It wasn't UCLA playing USC tough in this year's crosstown rivalry as much as the Trojans battling themselves -- penalties, poor execution, lackluster offensive play-calling to protect a rookie quarterback and more penalties making USC appear so vulnerable.

Stanford and Oregon put 102 points on the Trojans, and yet the Bruins couldn't locate the end zone through the first three quarters. It didn't seem that far away when they were playing against Washington State, Washington and Arizona State.

Who knew it would be Norm Chow who would help the USC defense feel so much better about itself?

The Trojans haven't been the same since Carroll fell in love with freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. His eyes actually sparkle when discussing the kid, believing he has one of those once-in-a-lifetime coaching dreams under center, the baby steps seemingly not bothering Carroll.

The media predicted the kid's inexperience would doom the Trojans, probably never dreaming the damage would run so deep, probably never thinking Carroll would just lose it and veer away from the team's obvious strength.

He had one of the best stables of running backs in the country, an offensive line loaded with heavy-duty beef, but instead of pounding opponents -- keeping the pressure off his quarterback and his young defense off the field -- he put it on his quarterback.

Barkley, who now talks like Carroll -- listen to a radio interview of the kid and tell me you can immediately tell the difference between him and Carroll -- appears as if he's regressed.

UCLA put a running back into the quarterback position to score its touchdown and make it 14-7 with 5:41 to play.

Bruins fans probably thought "momentum had moved across town," or "this city could be UCLA's for the taking," but once again there was nothing really there.

The only thing remaining was the ugly end to a brutal game. And the debate is on.

USC emerges a winner on the scoreboard, but Carroll will have some talking to do in the next few days.

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