Sports editor predictions — USC vs. UCLA

Annenberg Media sports editors make predictions for Jaxson Dart’s first start.

A graphic that says "Editor predictions: USC vs. UCLA" with a photo of USC quarterback Jaxson Dart

Before each game this USC football season, Annenberg Media’s sports staff will make prop predictions and pick a winner. Read on to see our editors’ picks for Week 11 against UCLA.

A graphic with editor predictions of who will win the USC-UCLA football game and a photo of USC quarterback Jaxson Dart

I told myself I wasn’t going to pick USC to win another game this season, but when they named Jaxson Dart the starter I changed my mind. UCLA has one of the worst secondaries in the Pac-12, allowing the most passing yards in the conference. Dart has shown he is more than willing to take shots down the field, and a shaky UCLA secondary might not be up to the task. USC’s defense will have a huge test against a vaunted UCLA offense that ranks fourth in the conference in points per game. This game is going to be a shootout. While UCLA is the better team on paper, Dart will wow in his first start in this iconic rivalry and the defense will make just enough plays to help the Trojans start the Dart era off with a win.

— L.J. Dow

UCLA beats USC at the Coliseum Saturday. Jaxson Dart will start at quarterback and likely play the entirety of this rivalry game. While the Trojans’ offense seems to have more luck putting points on the board with Dart running the show, this team has still struggled to get the ball into the end zone, which I believe will be the deciding factor. USC will move the ball well against a UCLA defense that has allowed over 240 rushing yards per game in its last two contests, but the Bruins have simply proven they’re much more capable of scoring touchdowns than the Trojans this year. UCLA has racked up 43 touchdowns to USC’s 30 on the season, and that’s against tougher competition including No. 3 Oregon, who barely escaped with a win at home over the Bruins.

Although USC is effectively coming off a second bye week, having an extra week to prepare for Notre Dame in October didn’t help the Trojans shore up weaknesses, particularly in the red zone and in the defensive secondary, a unit that has been weak all season. In its second game without primary offensive playmaker Drake London, I don’t see USC overcoming his absence in this one.

— Wyatt Allsup

Q: What will the score be at halftime?

Considering USC’s defense is especially useless against teams with a good run game, the Bruins — who average more than 200 rushing yards per game — should get off to a quick start. USC has made it too easy to reach the end zone this season — its opponents have only scored five field goals through nine games. With the Trojans’ affinity for conceding big plays, UCLA could easily have 21 at halftime.

Freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart’s legs give the Trojans’ offense another option in the red zone, where they’ve struggled to score touchdowns. However, given Dart’s relative inexperience leading this offense and some of the inconsistencies with player injuries and the quarterback rotation, it could take him some time to get things clicking. Whichever kicker Donte Williams feels like starting Saturday should see some first-half action, and I predict it’ll be 21-13 at the break.

— Amanda Sturges

A graphic with predictions of whether UCLA will have more passing or rushing yards in the rivalry football game with a photo of the USC-ASU game

If you’re looking at the season average, the Trojans defense only allows 163.2 rushing yards per game. But USC’s most recent game against Arizona State gives a more accurate representation of the Trojans’ inability to stop the run. The Sun Devils nearly had 300 rushing yards, with running back Rachaad White eclipsing the 200 mark all on his own and quarterback Jayden Daniels adding 50 yards on only five carries. The bad news for USC is that their crosstown rival runs a similar offense.

Between quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson and dual-threat running backs Zach Charbonnet and Brittain Brown, UCLA will run all over USC’s defense. Charbonnet and Brown both rank in the top 10 in rushing yards on the season. If both backs hit their season averages of 84.4 and 61.6, respectively, that means Thompson-Robinson only needs 54 yards on the ground for the Bruins to reach 200 total — not a far reach for a guy who put up 99 last week against Colorado (yes, USC has a better defense but still … they gave up 282 yards against Arizona State.)

— Ava Brand

A graphic of predictions of whether USC will score a third-quarter touchdown and photos of players Chris Steele and Tahj Washington

Third quarters have not been particularly kind to the Trojans this season. USC has scored only five third-quarter touchdowns all year, and — get this — none of them have come at home! This was an issue in the Clay Helton era, and it hasn’t gotten much better under Donte Williams. (Maybe Graham Harrell has a say?) For whatever reason, the halftime break, which is supposed to serve as a recharge, is only killing the engine.

But about that stat, the one about the five touchdowns? Four of them came in one game — and they were led by none other than freshman quarterback Jaxson Dart. That was the last time he had a third quarter all to himself. He seems to provide a jolt of energy to the offense, particularly coming out of the break, and I don’t anticipate that changing in a rivalry game. Besides, the Trojans will be down at the half, and they’ll need a score. Dart gives them one — perhaps more.

— Nathan Ackerman

A graphic of predictions for announced attendance at the USC-UCLA game with a photo of Calen Bullock

In every home game this season, USC has announced attendances between 50,000 and 55,000. But from the viewer’s perspective, it’s never felt like the Coliseum has even been half filled, much less two-thirds. The team hasn’t given the crowd much to cheer for either, losing three straight home games embarrassingly before finally getting a victory against Arizona.

Nevertheless, it’s hard to imagine the Coliseum not rocking for Saturday’s rivalry game. Not only is it the premier game of the season, but it’s also just a short commute for fans of the school 12 miles away.

— Eddie Sun