UCLA vs USC – The Battles For The Rose Bowl

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Under pressure from USC Trojans defensive tackle GARY JETER (# 79), the promising freshman from Cleveland who became a three-time All-Pac Eight selection as well as an First Team All-America choice, savvy UCLA Bruins quarterback JOHN SCIARRA (# 15), the homegrown sophomore from La Puente who developed into a consensus First Team All-America pick as a senior two years later, unloads the football fast during the annual collision of fierce intra-city foes at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 24, 1973.
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To a youngster growing up in the 1970s, it seemed as if every year saw those two famous Los Angeles intra-city rivals, the UCLA BRUINS and USC TROJANS, battling it out in the final conference game of the season for the right to play in the prestigious Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena. In fact, for no fewer than eight straight years starting in 1972, it was, indeed, the winner of the UCLA – USC contest who would be formally crowned as conference champions. As it was, this particular stretch culminated an amazing eighteen-year span that witnessed the annual Bruins versus Trojans clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum decide which of the two schools would be that season’s Rose Bowl participant no less than a baker’s dozen times.

Altogether, there have been a total of 22 games over the years which have seen the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans settle the conference championship exclusively between themselves. The Bruins were ineligible to play in the 1955 Rose Bowl Game on account of the so-called “No Repeat Rule” but still stomped the Trojans to win the Pacific Coast Conference title that season anyway. In 1966, USC actually lost to UCLA but afterwards were still tapped to be the Rose Bowl participant by the all-powerful athletic directors representing the member schools of the Athletic Association of Western Universities, nevertheless.

More than half of these remarkable Rose Bowl battles between the Bruins and the Trojans were actually decided by a margin of seven points or less (i.e., one touchdown). Furthermore, roughly one-third of said games were actually settled by three points or fewer (i.e., a field goal). Such competitive scorelines serve not only as testament to the overall drama of these epic UCLA – USC engagements but also to the enormous quality of the two programs involved, as well.

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Considered by all knowledgeable people to be one of the most spectacular college football games ever played throughout the course of the entire 20th Century, the 1967 UCLA Bruins – USC Trojans contest featured not one but two eventual Heisman Trophy winners trotting around on the same turf. UCLA senior quarterback GARY BEBAN (# 16) was limited by badly bruised ribs but still managed to pass for 301 yards against the Trojans and would soon be accepting the coveted award given annually to the nation’s very best player. USC junior tailback O.J. SIMPSON (# 32), the 1968 Heisman Trophy recipient, rushed for 177 yards (5.9 avg) and two touchdowns against the Bruins with his game-winning 64-yard scoring jaunt in the fourth quarter still widely considered to be one of the most sensational plays from scrimmage of all time.
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As is well-known, things began to change radically when the Bowl Championship Series was created in 1998. This meant that, in certain years, Pasadena would not be hosting the Pac-10 champion automatically, as had been the case before. And then, of course, the premier West Coast conference expanded to twelve teams while simultaneously restructuring itself to include two divisions in 2011; with the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans now both in the same South Division, the possibility of another true “Battle For The Rose Bowl” featuring the two schools separated by a distance of only twelve miles is unequivocally non-existent.

And that is most unfortunate, if only in the opinion of this blog.

UCLA vs USC – “BATTLES FOR THE ROSE BOWL”
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1939 ……….. 0-0 ……….. tie
1942 ……… 14-7 ……….. UCLA Bruins
1946 ……… 13-6 ……….. UCLA Bruins
1952 ……… 14-12 ……… USC Trojans
1953 ……… 13-0 ……….. UCLA Bruins
1954 ……… 34-0 ………. UCLA Bruins … (a)
1962 ……… 10-7 ……….. UCLA Bruins
1965 ……… 20-16 ……… UCLA Bruins
1966 ……… 14-7 ……….. UCLA Bruins … (b)
1967 ……… 21-20 ……… USC Trojans
1969 ……… 14-12 ……… USC Trojans
1972 ……… 24-7 ……….. USC Trojans
1973 ……… 23-13 ……… USC Trojans
1974 ……… 34-9 ………. USC Trojans
1975 ……… 25-22 ……… UCLA Bruins
1976 ……… 24-14 ……… USC Trojans
1977 ……… 29-27 ……… USC Trojans
1978 ……… 17-10 ……… USC Trojans
1979 ……… 49-14 ……… USC Trojans
1987 ……… 17-13 ………. USC Trojans
1988 ……… 31-22 ………. USC Trojans
1993 ……… 27-21 ………. UCLA Bruins

(a) the UCLA Bruins finished with a perfect 9-0-0 record and were ranked # 2 in that nation according to the final Associated Press poll in 1954

(b) the UCLA Bruins finished with a record of 9-1-0 and were ranked # 5 in the nation according to the final Associated Press poll in 1966 but, in stunning fashion, were passed over in favor of the unranked USC Trojans, who ended their regular season with a 7-3-0 slate.

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Be it Bruins passer GARY BEBAN versus Trojans runner O.J. SIMPSON, UCLA linebacker JERRY ROBINSON & safety KENNY EASLEY against USC tailback CHARLES WHITE or, perhaps, Bruins quarterback TROY AIKMAN dueling with Trojans signal-caller RODNEY PEETE. The roll call of mouth-watering individual match-ups that were an integral component of the classic UCLA Bruins vs USC Trojans “Battles For The Rose Bowl” throughout the years is certainly as long as it is impressive. Appropriately enough, this most noteworthy tradition of genuine gridiron excellence going head-to-head on the grass at the venerable Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum began with the very first of these titanic intra-city tilts back in 1939, when UCLA star left halfback KENNY WASHINGTON, the consensus All-America selection who led the entire country with 1,371 yards of total offense (812 rush, 559 pass) that year, crossed paths with talented USC quarterback GRENNY LANSDELL, the two-time All-Pacific Coast choice who finished with 1,221 yards of total offense (742 rush, 479 pass) that season and was tabbed in the first round of the 1940 National Football League Draft by the New York Giants.

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