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IS UCLA DOOMED TO LOSE? TROJANS ON TOP IN BRUIN RIVALRY.

Byline: BRAD A. GREENBERG Staff Writer

The Bruin Bear is hibernating, but UCLA fans hope the Bruin football team is not.

Eight years have passed since UCLA beat USC in the schools' end-of-the-season football duel. And, with the Bruins two-touchdown underdogs, few more than loyal fans are giving 6-5 UCLA much of a chance against 10-1 USC.

``Last year, we were almost undefeated and everybody thought we had a good chance of winning,'' said Eric Landoll, a senior who had a ticket but wasn't sure he would use it. ``I don't think anyone thinks we can beat them this year.''

On an afternoon this week in Bruin Plaza, 25 minutes of inquiry didn't yield a single student who planned to attend. The sense among some on both campuses is that the season capper isn't what it once was.

``I keep forgetting it is the USC-UCLA game,'' said Marigot Vreeland, a Trojan sophomore who couldn't get tickets but wasn't too disappointed.

``Last weekend was our big game,'' she said of USC's victory against Notre Dame, ``and everyone has just forgotten about (UCLA). Everyone assumes we are going to win.''

To be sure, the rivalry is not dead. This week was spirit week at both campuses, replete with sanctioned car smashings and bonfires and pep rallies. A tent village of vigilant Bruins arose each night in Bruin Plaza to protect UCLA's mascot. Across town, a few dozen Trojans spent hours on end guarding Tommy Trojan.

``In my home, it is pure bragging rights,'' said USC senior Matt Crowley, whose older brother graduated from UCLA. ``If we go down, I have to hear about it for the next year. I've been undefeated throughout college. I don't want to go down my senior year.''

Though USC is the highest- ranked team UCLA will play this season, the Bruins aren't even the best Pacific-10 team to challenge the Trojans. Those honors go to Cal and Oregon and, arguably, Oregon State, which handed USC its only loss. In nonconference games, USC also pounded Arkansas, Nebraska and Notre Dame.

``UCLA has become irrelevant,'' UCLA Daily Bruin sports columnist Gilbert Quinonez wrote this week. ``The crosstown rivalry has become irrelevant. That is just another reason why the Bruins need to win Saturday.''

USC leads the 77-year rivalry 41-27, with seven games ending in ties. Only once since 2001 has the battle for the Victory Bell trophy been close.

``Even then, UCLA's standards had fallen so low that the 29-24 loss was deemed a moral victory,'' Quinonez wrote.

Sports commentators have questioned whether USC might foolishly overlook UCLA and play themselves out of the national championship. Trojan fans swear coach Pete Carroll won't let that happen.

But even the media seem to see Pasadena as merely a checkpoint on USC's road to the championship in Glendale, Ariz. A commercial on ESPN didn't list bragging rights or the Victory Bell as the stakes of Saturday's game, but ``USC's bid for a third straight title game.''

That's enough, though, to conjure hope in some Bruin fans. ``I almost went to USC, but once I got here, I started bleeding blue and gold,'' freshman Lucas Brand said. ``For me, we could have a terrible season, and just beating SC would make it all worthwhile.''

brad.greenberg(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3634

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) The UCLA Bruin Bear sits beneath blue tarps Thursday, in anticipation of the USC rivalry game this weekend.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(2) Members of the Trojan Knights take turns guarding Tommy Trojan on Thursday, making sure he's not harmed before the weekend's USC vs. UCLA football game at the Rose Bowl.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 1, 2006
Words:611
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