The past three seasons have seen USC enter its rivalry game against UCLA with its Pac-12 South championship aspirations also at stake.
Last season, the Trojans defeated the Bruins to stay in contention behind Colorado in the race, before entering the final weekend of the regular season. When they prevailed in 2015, their victory clinched the division.
Then there was 2014, when the Trojans were eliminated from contention by a Brett Hundley-led bunch.
This Saturday will differ.
USC has already wrapped up the Pac-12 South, following last weekend’s 38-24 victory at Colorado, and will appear in the conference championship next month. The 87th renewal of the crosstown rivalry at the Coliseum will have little impact on the standings and none at the top.
Players said the perceived lower stakes of the rivalry game would have little effect on them.
“I mean, we’re Trojans, we’re going to fight to win any game, no matter what standing or ranking we are compared to them, if they have a chance, if we don’t have a chance, if we have a chance,” Ajene Harris said after the win at Colorado.
The team begins practice Tuesday at Howard Jones-Brian Kennedy Field.
When asked about a potential letdown, with their position in the South Division already secured, no one sounded concerned. Tight end Tyler Petite expected they would be emotional in another respect.
“I think we’ll just be able to go in with a little bit of swagger,” Petite said. “Not in the way we’re going to go in there in and kill them, but in a way where we’ve already set our own destiny.”
A victory would still mean a few things for the Trojans: a potential third consecutive win over the rival Bruins, along with ensuring an outright division title and keeping an outside chance of a College Football Playoff berth alive. They were No. 11 in last week’s rankings.
One reporter presented USC coach Clay Helton with the hypothetical of resting certain banged-up starters against UCLA. Helton bypassed offering an answer.
“Every week is the important game to us,” Helton said. “We treat each game like a playoff game and this game is no different than previous 11 games that we played.”
COLISEUM CHANGES COMING
Saturday is the last time USC will have a chance to pack more than 90,000 fans into its home football stadium.
Renovations to the Coliseum are scheduled to begin early next year, shrinking the capacity from approximately 94,000 to about 80,000 by next season. It ultimately will be…