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Wake Me Up When September Comes

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As Monday morning dawns in Los Angeles, the reality of Saturday’s big game at the Rose Bowl is finally beginning to settle in. Bruin supporters across the city will be arriving at the office decked out in blue, actively seeking out their Trojan colleagues to vent their seven years of frustration and embarrassment into an enormous cathartic release of joyous celebration (and smack talking).

It is a new day in LA. The Victory Bell resides in Westwood once again.

We’ve already had multiple postings about the various after-effects of the game. From the football perspective, it is a season-making win for the Bruins and a devastating loss for the Trojans. As Adam pointed out, there are potential implications for the coaching staff as a result of this astounding turn of events. But there could be other wider implications as well.

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I wrote a few weeks ago about the identity crisis that UCLA football has suffered from since 1998, not so coincidentally the last time that the Bruins had beaten USC. The indictment from the college football community was that UCLA was a soft team, one that occasionally made some noise on a national scale, but generally lacked the physical and mental toughness to be taken seriously. And with the amazing run of success that the Trojans have had under Pete Carroll, the Bruins were becoming an afterthought even their own city. This win was the first signal that UCLA may be redefining itself into a solid, disciplined, efficient team that plays with heart and guts.

Without question, USC had superior talent on both sides of the ball, with more heralded coaches. Didn't matter. UCLA simply outplayed the number two team in the country. There were no fluke plays, no major mistakes that USC made to give the game away. UCLA outstrategized and outworked USC. The Trojans had three times the number of penalties (9-3). On most of the critical plays of the game for USC's offense, the Bruin defense was so dialed in that it appeared they knew what play was coming. John David Booty, the Pac-10's leading passer, was the one who seemed flustered by the relentless pass rush of the UCLA front four, while Pat Cowan, the lightly regarded backup, made plays by keeping his composure even when the pocket broke down. If you had never watched a game of football before in your life and knew nothing about either of the teams, you would have thought that UCLA was the better team.

This is a major paradigm shift in the UCLA camp. Certainly, one win does not change the fact that the team lost five games and has a long way to go to close the gap with the USC program. And it does not all of a sudden mean that Karl Dorrell will necessarily lead the Bruins to a new level of success. But the win is HUGE in terms of getting players and recruits bought into the idea that the UCLA program is legitimate, that it isn't just second fiddle to USC. It showed that the leadership, which has been often questioned by Bruin fans, can put the players in the best position possible to win. As we saw, a team's confidence and belief in itself can lead to great things. UCLA stood toe-to-toe with USC and the Trojans were the ones who flinched.

On the Trojan side of the ball, one loss obviously does not wipe out this incredible five season run; USC is still the conference champ and headed to yet another BCS bowl game in a "rebuilding year". They have an ungodly amount of talent, and a young returning nucleus like the Bruins (16 returning starters for USC, 20 for UCLA), and should be primed for another national title push next season.

However, for the first time since perhaps Carroll's first season in 2001 when the team was 2-5, some questions are actually being raised about the direction of the USC program. As alluded to by Tony, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is under heavy fire for perceived poor playcalling and halftime adjustments. Other Trojan fans are unsure if Booty is the answer for next season at quarterback, despite his gaudy numbers, because of his inability to deal with pocket pressure and his low release point.

While these are, in part, reactive comments after a difficult loss, it indicates at least a shred of doubt that has been absent during this run. In some sense, the aura of invincibility has been pierced even further than after the heartbreaking loss to Texas in last year's Rose Bowl because of the way in which this game was lost. It is always the Trojans that make the clutch plays, that are most prepared, and that impose their will. It has been unfathomable for a USC team to simply get beat. Not anymore.

Fortunately for both teams, one more game is left in the season: UCLA will travel to the Emerald Bowl to take on reeling Florida St. while USC will return to Pasadena face a highly motivated Michigan squad snubbed by the BCS. For the Bruins, a win is necessary to continue all of the positive momentum from the upset. For the Trojans, a win will wash away some of the bitterness and restore some of the pride to a wounded team.

But most significantly, UCLA fans have 363 more days to savor the sweet taste of victory. And you can guarantee that there will be no shortage of savoring at the expense of the hated Trojans.

AP photo by Danny Moloshok