Sam Darnold: USC-UCLA Rivalry Still Sharp

The College Football Playoff committee hasn’t shown the Pac-12 a whole lot of respect this season, but perhaps that’s justified. There are certainly good teams in the Pac-12, but great ones? Well, that’s not entirely clear.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold, who led the Trojans to a 26-13 win at Washington this past Saturday, got a few snaps against Alabama in USC’s season-opening 52-6 loss. Was there a clear difference between the Tide and the Huskies in terms of talent and athleticism?

“That’s an interesting question,” Darnold said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Obviously Bama recruits the best of the best and Washington has obviously picked it up in the past couple years, but they’re not typically known for that type of reciting in the SEC and what Bama does. But I don’t think – in college, at least – I don’t think I’ll ever see a D-line like Bama thew out there, or a front seven, for that matter, with their linebackers as well. That defense, you could argue, is an NFL defense. Yeah, they might not compete with an NFL offense, but those guys are going to be playing on Sundays. When I was out there for a few plays, it was just a big difference in terms of speed and in terms of all that kind of stuff. But it’s always good to get games like that under your belt.”

Darnold went 4-of-8 for 29 yards against Alabama, this after then-starter Max Browne was benched for going 14-of-29 for 101 yards and an interception.

In the preseason, Browne, a junior, was named the starter over Darnold, a redshirt freshman.

“I was obviously disappointed, but I was super happy for Max,” Darnold said. “He worked so hard and has worked so hard for the four years that he’s been here. He really deserved it. It’s a blessing to be able to come in here and be able to take advantage of the opportunity given to me. But Max definitely deserved the starting job.”

That was true then, but it’s not true now. Darnold has led the No. 13 Trojans (7-3) to six straight wins, including victories over Colorado and Washington, both of which are ranked in the top 10 this week.

The Trojans will try to make it seven in a row this Saturday, when they face UCLA (4-6) at the Rose Bowl at 10:30 p.m. ET. This game has to have lost some of its luster with UCLA struggling so mightily this season, right?

Apparently not.

“I don’t think there’s a ton of luster that’s gone away, to be honest with you,” Darnold said. “It’s still a huge rivalry and you see the separation in the town when it comes to this game. You either love SC, hate SC or you love UCLA or you hate UCLA. It’s not one or the other. It’s not an in-between type thing. But ironically, we all come together in one place when it’s all said and done on Saturday and we come together and watch a ball game and have fun together. It’s an interesting dynamic, but I think that it’s awesome and I think the rivalry is still really sharp. I think a lot of people are still going to be super interested, especially here in Southern California. I think it’ll be a great game.”

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