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During the mid-to-late 2000s, USC was the premier program in not only the Pac-10, but arguably, in all of college football.
Perhaps no one was more pained by that fact than UCLA. The Bruins dominated the series in the 1990s, but from 1999 to 2011, USC won 12 of the 13 meetings.
The lone win for UCLA over that stretch however, may have cost the Trojans a third national championship in four years. It came on this day 15 years ago by a 13-9 score.
Setting the Stage
Ranked No. 2 in the polls and BCS, USC likely needed just to beat UCLA to play for a third straight BCS title on Dec. 2, 2006. USC had handled three straight ranked opponents and was on a 4-game winning streak as it arrived at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with a 10-1 record.
At 6-5, UCLA had overcome a midseason 4-game losing streak with consecutive wins over Oregon State and Arizona State. On that first Saturday in December however, the Bruins would score their biggest win of the season.
Statistically, USC held the edge with 329 yards of offense to 235 for the Bruins. Throughout the day however, the Trojans just couldn’t finish a drive.
The lone touchdown drive for UCLA would be an impressive one. Quarterback Patrick Cowan capped the 11-play, 91-yard march late in the first quarter with a 1-yard touchdown run.
UCLA led 7-0 after one, but a safety and a 1-yard touchdown run from C.J. Gable allowed USC to take a 9-7 lead into the locker room. The Trojans would not score again.
UCLA went ahead for good on Justin Medlock’s short field goal midway through the third quarter. A turnover on the next possession for the Bruins gave USC the ball in UCLA territory, but the defense stood tall as Gable was stuffed on fourth down.
UCLA pushed the lead to four with less than nine minutes to go on Medlock’s second field goal. Following an exchange of punts, USC marched into the red zone, looking to win the game.
Quarterback John David Booty passed for 274 yards for USC, but the game’s biggest throw never made it past the line of scrimmage. With 1:10 to play, UCLA’s Eric McNeal deflected the pass at the line of scrimmage and made an incredible diving interception to seal the win. USC would get one more play on offense, but could do nothing with it.
Although a national championship was out of the question for Pete Carroll’s team, USC did win the Pac-10. The Trojans returned to the Rose Bowl to close the season where they easily took care of Michigan, 32-18. They finished 11-2 and No. 4 in the polls.
UCLA finished with a record of 7-6 after losing to Florida State in the Emerald Bowl, 44-27. The most impressive victory from that season was the upset of rival USC that took place on this day 15 years ago.