As the USC Trojans prepare to battle the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night, head coach Lane Kiffin has a balancing act of trying to get his players prepared for a rivalry game while also preventing them from letting their emotions get the best of them.
Kiffin on Thursday thought back to 2006, the only victory for the Bruins over the Trojans in the last 12 years, a 13-9 defeat that kept the Trojans out of the BCS Championship Game. USC isn't playing for those stakes on Saturday, but are still a heavy favorite over the Bruins, favored by 16 points per Odds Shark.
"If you don't prepare very well, you can lose any game no matter what at any level. It's not about the talent, it's about how you play that day. When you add a rivalry game to it, it really doesn't matter," Kiffin said. "These spreads don't mean anything. You can go over years and years of rivalry games, you can throw the spreads out the window.
Then there is also the matter of what could be quarterback Matt Barkley's final game at USC. The junior quarterback is still undecided as to whether or not he will turn pro after this season. Kiffin hopes the emotions of a potential final game won't adversely affect Barkley on Saturday night. Matt Leinart started out slow against UCLA in his final regular season game in 2005.
"We're going to talk to him, make sure he doesn't pull a Leinart on us," Kiffin told the Los Angeles Daily News. "Matt was still crying late in the first series, I think he started 0 for 5 and threw the ball 10 yards over [Dwayne Jarrett's] head."
As for Barkley, he doesn't plan on any waterworks. "We're in completely different situations. You probably won't see me crying," said Barkley.
Kiffin still has some time to convince Barkley to return to school for his senior season, unfettered by any NCAA sanctions, to a team that, with Barkley, would likely be a preseason top five or top ten team heading into next year. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Kiffin on Thursday was asked what he was thankful for. Without skipping a beat, Kiffin immediately replied, "Our quarterback, and how he's playing right now. Very thankful."
Just think how thankful Kiffin would be if Barkley decides to return.
Saturday night's 7 p.m. PST game will be televised by Prime Ticket. For more UCLA football news and analysis, be sure to read Bruins Nation. For USC football information, be sure to read Conquest Chronicles.