Vilardo: Best of the California School Rivalry Series

Posted on November 17, 2021

  By Stephen Vilardo, SportsPac12

The four California schools will get their big rivalry games out of the way a week earlier than the rest of the Pac-12.

Stanford and Cal will battle in the Big Game on Saturday at Stanford Stadium while USC will host UCLA in college athletics best and most famous crosstown rivalry.

usc logoThis week we will focus on some of the best of all-time in the respective series. Or at least some of the best and most memorable moments in games in which the records entering the games normally did mean extraordinarily little.

And on the topic of games where you could throw out the records you need to look no further than a pair of matchups for the Victory Bell over the last 30 years.

1992: UCLA 38, USC 37
We will start with the 1992 meeting when USC entered ranked 18th in the nation while the Bruins were 5-5 on the season and 2-5 in conference play.

UCLA had failed to reach the 30-point mark in any conference game and had been held to 12 points or less in five of seven in conference play. This of course was the John Barnes Game.

Barnes started his career as a walk-on and ended his career with 957 total passing yards—40 percent of that total coming at the hands of the Trojans in his fourth career start.

Terry Donahue with QB John Barnes in 1992 | Otto Greule Jr /Allsport/Getty Images

USC held a 31-17 lead entering the final quarter, but Barnes and the Bruins rolled off 21 straight to take a 38-31 lead on a 90-yard TD connection with JJ Stokes with 3:08 to go.

Not to be outdone the Trojans answered with a Rob Johnson TD. UCLA broke up the ensuing two-point conversion attempt for a 38-37 win.

Barnes ended up with 385 yards passing and JJ Stokes was on the receiving end of 263 of them—on six catches, a 43.8-yard average!!

2006: UCLA 13, USC 9
Another one where the records proved meaningless was the 2006 meeting. The Trojans were ranked second in the nation and averaged 32.3 points per game.

They had scored at least 20 points in each of their prior 63 games—an NCAA record at the time (Since broken by Oklahoma’s 69 game streak that ended this season against West Virginia).

UCLA was 6-5 entering the contest and 4-4 in conference play. This day however belonged to the Bruins defense as they held the Trojans to single digits in a 13-9 win that was sealed by an Eric McNeal diving interception of John David Booty.

USC and UCLA in 2006. | Matt Brown /Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

This season marks just the 12th time that USC has ever entered their game with UCLA with a sub-.500 record and the first time since 2000. In that one it was a 4-6 Trojan squad going into the Rose Bowl and knocking off a 6-4 Bruin side 38-35.

Carson Palmer led the way for USC with 350 yards and four TD passes in what would be the second-to-last game coached by Paul Hackett.

1967:  USC 21, UCLA 20
Perhaps the most meaningful national matchup between the teams came in 1967 when top-ranked UCLA met fourth-ranked USC in the Coliseum.

And it was the Trojans leaving with a 21-20 win and finishing the season with the National Championship following a Rose Bowl win.

USC’s OJ Simpson scores vs USC in 1967. | Getty Images

UCLA’s Gary Beban would win the Heisman Trophy with O.J. Simpson finishing second. The following season Simpson would win the Heisman.

Beban battled bruised ribs that day and still threw for 301 yards while Simpson finished the day with 177 yards on 30 carries.

1996: UCLA 48, USC 41 (2OT)
In 1996, the teams met with little on the line but bragging rights as the Trojans were 5-5 while UCLA entered the game with a 4-6 record. Fans with no particular rooting interest can only hope this week’s game plays out half as good as that one did.

It was a double-overtime thriller won by the Bruins 48-41, and still the only game in the series that has ended up in overtime. It also was a game with incompletions that would have been TDs today with instant replay.

The matchup featured questionable pass interference calls, even a kickoff landing at the one and bouncing back into the field to set USC up with rough field position in the fourth quarter.

The Trojans held a 17-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, until a UCLA field goal cut it to 14 with just over six minutes to go.

And then the crazy kickoff: USC got the ball at eight and ultimately punted from inside the 15. UCLA got a TD, following a fourth-down conversion by Cade McNown, to cut it to seven with 2:49 to go but could not secure the onside kick.

UCLA’s Jamal Clark vs USC in 1996 | Brian Bahr/Allsport/Getty Images

A USC fumble with a minute and a half to go gave it back to the Bruins and would lead to a Skip Hicks TD run to tie it with 39 seconds to go. And things still were not done yet in regulation.

USC got an amazing catch from Chris Miller—see questionable call, called defensive, looked like Miller got away with one—either way, great catch inside the Bruins 20 to set up the game winning field goal as time expired.

The kick, however, was blocked by defensive tackle Travis Kirschke to send the game to overtime.

The teams traded FGs in the opening extra period then it was a Skip Hicks TD run and UCLA holding the Trojans out of the end zone in the second overtime for the dramatic 48-41 win.

We can only hope for as exciting of a game this Saturday. And the one thing we can expect from this series is that you don’t know what to expect.

1982: Cal 25, Stanford 20
Rivalries that are played with the game having a title are a big deal. And when it is known as simply The Big Game, then you know it is special.

And when games within the series are given names of their own then you really know they are something special. And Stanford and Cal have certainly had some of those through the years.

In 1982, John Elway was set to play in his first bowl game with a Hall of Fame Bowl berth for the Cardinal following a win over the Bears. Then The Play happened.

Stanford led 20-19 with four seconds left. Cal only had 10 players on the field for the kick. Keven Moen fielded the squib, lateraled it to Richard Rodgers.

California’s Kevin Moen vs Stanford in 1982 | Robert Stinnett/Oakland Tribune

Rodgers got it to Dwight Garner, Garner sent it back to Rodgers, who found Mariet Ford in stride, who then met the band, cheerleaders, fans and players who had made their way onto the field.

Ford got it back to Moen who found the endzone and a 25-20 Cal win.

It may be the most famous play in football history, and Gary Tyrell is the most famous trombone player in history. Had there been instant replay it may have denied us of The Play! (Then again replay existed in 2015 and Miami still got one on Duke.)

1990: Stanford 27, Cal 25
In 1990, it was the Revenge of The Play. Stanford took their first lead of the game with under 10 minutes to go in the game at 18-17. Cal answered with a TD drive and two-point conversion and a 25-18 lead with just over six minutes to play.

With the Bears still leading 25-18 and 1:54 left to play, they punted and pinned Stanford 87 yards from the endzone. The drive had a couple near interceptions and a fourth down conversion.

Stanford’s Ed McCaffrey vs Cal | David Madison/Getty Images

Ultimately, it was a Jason Palumbis TD pass to Ed McCaffery with 17 seconds to go. Rather than tie the game with the PAT—this is prior to OT—Dennis Green decided to roll the dice and win it with a two-point conversion. The try was intercepted.

And Cal fans stormed the field, and the Bears were hit with a 15-yard delay of game penalty. John Hopkins, kicking from the 50, saw his onside kick touch seven players before being recovered by Stanford’s Dan Byers at the 37.

Stanford had nine seconds and looked to get closer, and the pass was incomplete, but the Bears were called for roughing the passer. Hopkins then booted a game-winning 37-yard field goal and a 27-25 Cardinal victory.

1986: Cal 17, Stanford 11
In 1986, Cal was 1-9 and had lost their prior three games by a combined 104-12. Stanford was ranked 16th in the nation and 7-2 on the season. The Bears sacked John Paye seven times and Stanford finished the day with just 41 rushing yards.

Stanford’s Brad Muster vs Cal in 1986 | David Madison

Cal was a 17-11 winner. It was the final game coached by Joe Kapp at his alma mater.

If we get into the way back machine the 1924 game was played with a Rose Bowl berth on the line as both teams entered the game unbeaten. Stanford trailed 20-6 with under five minutes to go but rallied with two touchdowns to get a tie and a trip to Pasadena.

Stanford has had the most success as of late, taking 10 of the last 11 between the rivals. Included in the recent run for the Cardinal is a 63-13 win in 2013.

That outcome established the record for the most points scored by a team in the series, and the 50-point margin was the largest in the 123 meetings.

A look at some Pac-12 Rankings in National Stat Categories
McKinley III

• Verone McKinley III is tied for second in the nation with .5 interceptions per game.
• Colorado’s Josh Watts is fourth in the nation punting for an average of 48.3 yards. Kyle Ostendorp is fifth at 48.2 for Arizona.
• Utah’s Britain Covey is returning punts at 14.7 yards per return, the third best in the country. Arizona’s D.J Taylor is fifth at 13.8.
• Devin Lloyd is second in the nation with 2.0 tackles for loss per game this season.

pac-12 football oregon state

• Avery Roberts is averaging 11.1 tackles per game for Oregon State, the third most of any player in the country.

• Greg Dulcich has 564 receiving yards, the 8th most of any TE in the nation.
• Rachaad White and Tavion Thomas each have 14 rushing touchdowns this season, the eighth most in the nation.
• Curtis Hodges averages 18.65 yards per reception this season, the second most of any TE in the nation and 23rd overall.
• Washington leads the nation in passing defense by a good margin allowing 136.3 per game, the next closest is Wisconsin at 155.7.
• Oregon State is converting 53.1% of their third downs, the fourth best in the nation while Oregon is fifth at 51.6%
• Utah’s 4.5 penalties per game are the 13th fewest in the nation.
• Washington State leads the nation with 13 fumble recoveries this season.

Follow Stephen on Twitter @StephenVilardo and his organization @SERCenter.

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