Five things to watch: No. 22 UCLA at USC


Five things to know headed into Saturday's game between No. 22 UCLA and USC at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum:

1. Championship at stake: Not that there needs to be anything tangible to play for to make UCLA-USC an important game, but with the Pac-12 South division title on the line, there’s an added level of intrigue. For the winner, a trip to the Rose Bowl is still in play. For the loser, how does Vegas sound? The difference might not end up that drastic, but that this game could have those kind of ramifications makes it the most important in the series since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011.

2. Kessler vs. Rosen: As a fifth-year senior, USC quarterback Cody Kessler is looking to leave a legacy that’s more than “The guy there for all the coaching drama.” With a win against UCLA, he’ll have something to hang his hat on with the opportunity to really leave a mark next week. UCLA’s Josh Rosen is still just getting started. The true freshman has exceeded the sky-high expectations he arrived with and a win in the rivalry would only add to a foundation for what could be an all-time great career – not just at UCLA, but in the Pac-12.

3. Streaks: Jim Mora’s arrival at UCLA has made all the difference in one of the country’s best rivalry games. In the five years before he took over, the Bruins scored a combined 35 points in five losses, including a 50-0 drubbing in 2011. They haven't lost since and scored at least 35 points in each game.

4. Kenny Clark’s impact: If there’s a game on the schedule where USC being down to its third-string center would be especially worrisome it’s this week. Lining up at nose tackle for UCLA is Kenny Clark, one of the nation’s most dominant interior lineman and a strong candidate for the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. “He’s one of those guys you really have to game plan for,” USC interim coach Clay Helton said. “You look in the league and there is some special guys out we’re going to have do something to stop this young man. He’s one of those guys. It’s going to take every scheme that we’ve got to contain him. He’s a special kid.”

5. Helton’s future: The players maintain they would like to see Helton remain on board as the permanent head coach and should the Trojans beat UCLA and Stanford again next week, it at least would give athletics director Pat Haden something to think about. However, if USC loses – on the heels of a poor performance at Oregon last week – his fate is sealed. Helton, though, has elevated his stature nationally and should be wind up looking for a new job, his name will be considered for head jobs other places.