The UCLA-USC football game will be played today at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, with the winner advancing to next Saturday’s Pac-12 Football Championship Game.
A South Division championship and a berth in the conference championship game seemed unlikely for the Trojans after their 17-12 loss to Washington on Oct. 8 dropped them to 1-2 in conference play and a tie for fourth in the six- team division, 1 1/2 games behind division-leading Utah.
Coach Steve Sarkisian was placed on indefinite leave on Oct. 11 amid rumors of continuing troubles with alcohol and fired a day later, with offensive coordinator Clay Helton appointed as interim coach.
USC lost a nonconference game to Notre Dame in its first game following Sarkisian’s firing, but were 42-24 winners over previously undefeated Utah in its first conference game.
The Trojans also won each of their next three conference games, allowing them to remain in contention for a division championship even with last Saturday’s 48-28 loss at Oregon.
“When we started this thing out six weeks ago we said what an unbelievable story it would be to win a Pac-12 South championship and here six weeks later we’re on the cusp of having the opportunity to do that,” Helton told reporters on a conference call this week.
“It would be a neat story for a bunch of great seniors and resilient seniors to walk away Pac-12 South champions.”
Since the Pac-12 Conference went to the two-division format in 2011 with the additions of Colorado and Utah to the conference, USC has never won a South Division championship.
The Trojans finished first in the standings in 2011, but were ineligible for the division championship because of a penalty by the NCAA for violating various rules.
Both teams are 8-3, 5-3 in conference play. The Bruins are ranked 22nd in The Associated Press poll, while USC is not among the top 25 officially ranked. The Trojans received eight points in the voting for the most recent poll, which was released Sunday, putting them 32nd.
Various oddsmakers have made USC a 3-point favorite. ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Trojans a 65.6 percent chance of winning.
UCLA is 3-0 against USC since Jim Mora became its coach in 2012, with the victories coming over three coaches — Lane Kiffin in 2012, Ed Orgeron in 2013 and Sarkisian in 2014.
The Bruins are seeking their first four-game winning streak over the Trojans since it won eight straight from 1991-98.
USC has a 46-31-7 on-field lead in the series, although its victories in 2004 and 2005 were later vacated due to NCAA penalty.
The winning team will be awarded the Victory Bell, a 295-pound bell originally hung atop a Southern Pacific freight locomotive.
The bell was given to the UCLA Alumni Association in 1939. In 1941, it was taken by a group of USC students.
A year later, the student body presidents of both schools signed an agreement providing that the winner of the game would keep possession for the next year, a tradition that has continued.
The temperature at the 12:30 p.m. kickoff will be 62 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
The game marks the conclusion of Tackle Hunger, a weeklong joint effort by UCLA and USC to benefit the LA Regional Foodbank.
A public service message asking fans to make a $10 donation to the LA Regional Food Bank by texting “GoUCLA” or “GoUSC” to 41444 on their smart phone will be played on the Coliseum’s video board.
The message features “The Last Man on Earth” star Will Forte, a UCLA alumnus, and fellow Emmy nominee Timothy Olyphant (“Justified”), a USC alumnus.
The LA Regional Foodbank distributes 1.1 million pounds of food each week through more than 700 agencies. More than 1,000 agencies remain on a waiting list, according to Andy Morris, the LA Regional Foodbank’s director of communications & marketing.