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A Pac-12 sweep? A 10-win season? A bigger bowl game? Stakes will be high for No. 13 BYU at USC

Cougars (9-2) roll into the famed Los Angeles Coliseum favored to knock off 4-6 USC on Saturday, but a loss could prove to be devastating to their NY6 bowl hopes

BYU receiver Gunner Romney celebrates after making a long catch for a touchdown against USF at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
Brigham Young Cougars wide receiver Gunner Romney (18) celebrates after making a long catch for a touchdown as BYU and USF play a college football game at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021. BYU won 35-27.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

LOS ANGELES — The USC Trojans are 4-6, trying to avoid a second losing season in the last four years, gave up 62 points to rival UCLA last week, have lost four of their last five games and surrendered a combined 542 rushing yards in their last two games to the Bruins and Arizona State Sun Devils.

Oh, and the Men of Troy also have an interim coach, a defense decimated by injuries and are playing without their terrific, projected NFL first-round draft pick receiver, Drake London.

But don’t for a second suggest to No. 13 BYU (9-2) that Saturday night’s fourth all-time meeting with USC will be anything but a dogfight, a no-holds-barred scrap to the finish similar to what the Cougars got from the previous four Pac-12 opponents they held off this season: Arizona, Utah, ASU and Washington State.

“Hey, they are still USC,” said BYU receiver Gunner Romney. “This game, we don’t need extra motivation. Everybody will need to be ready to go.”

Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. MST, as BYU visits the famed Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for the first time since 2003 with considerably more on the line than 18 years ago when the Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart-led Trojans broke away late for a 35-18 win.

Here’s what is at stake for BYU:

• A chance to improve to 5-0 against the Pac-12 and give Cougar fans in attendance the opportunity to mockingly chant “Pac-12 champs” in one of the most-hallowed Pac-12 football cathedrals, the Coliseum.

• A second-straight 10-win season for the first time since 2007-10 when BYU posted four-straight double-digit win seasons under Bronco Mendenhall.

• A win keeps the Cougars’ fading hopes of getting an invitation to play in a New Year’s Six bowl game alive; A loss in almost all certainty sends them to the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Dec. 18.

What will motivate the Trojans?

Two years ago, Zach Wilson guided BYU to a 30-27 overtime win in Provo, so USC has not only bowl eligibility and Pac-12 pride to play for, but revenge as well.

Also, it might be the last chance for Trojans with NFL aspirations to put a good performance on film.

“They are a super athletic team. They got guys all over the field who can play at the next level,” Romney said. “You know that if it is a close game, a tight game, or if they come out fired up, it could be a dogfight.

“They have some ballers on their team, so that is one thing we have prepared for, is trying to put it on them early and hopefully run away with it, but we are ready for a dogfight if needed.”

USC interim coach Donte Williams said Thursday that practices were sloppy and flat early in the week, but generally picked up; he said leading rusher Keaontay Ingram, who sustained an upper body injury against UCLA, will be a game-time decision.

“We had a little bit of highs and lows, but some guys still had a lot of want-to. We gotta have want-to from everyone,” Williams said. “It has to be full buy-in to make sure we are fully prepared to take on BYU.”

Williams, who took over for Clay Helton, said BYU won’t feel sorry for the Trojans, and they aren’t feeling sorry for themselves.

Another interesting storyline: USC’s expected starting quarterback, Jaxson Dart, played high school football in Utah at Roy and Corner Canyon and was the Deseret News’ Mr. Football in 2020.

“BYU has big, physical, grown men,” Williams said on the Trojans Live radio program. “That’s what we are about to play. You are playing an NFL team when it comes to size, when it comes to the things they are comfortable doing.

“So with their maturity, the crowd pretty much won’t bother them. They will be prepared for that. They are a well-coached football team.”

Speaking of the crowd, it will be interesting to see what percentage of the 75,000-seat Coliseum is comprised of blue-clad Cougar fans on Saturday night.

Tight end Isaac Rex, who grew up in nearby San Clemente, California, expects it to be close to 50-50, even if it is Senior Night for the cardinal and gold.

“BYU fans pack the away stadiums,” he said. “BYU fans are loyal and we love it. I can’t thank Cougar Nation enough for coming out to our games.”

The Cougars should be able to move the football and score points — BYU’s offense is in the top 30 nationally in 12 categories, including total offense and scoring offense.

They are and have been susceptible on defense, however, especially now that outstanding linebacker Payton Wilgar had shoulder surgery and is done for the season.

A couple of defenders, such as Chaz Ah You and George Udo, could be back.

“I am not really worried about the (10 wins, or record against the Pac-12) or anything like that,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake.

“I am just trying to get our team ready to perform at our best, and we will see what happens at the end. But I like our chances to do that. That’s the goal.”

BYU linebacker Max Tooley said the Cougars feel like they have already proved that last year’s 11-1 record against inferior competition was no fluke, but beating another Power Five opponent — BYU is 5-1 against P5 foes so far — would put another feather in its cap.

“We don’t put as much into that as fans or people on Twitter do, but come the end of the year, if we are 5-0 against the Pac-12, obviously that is a great accomplishment for everybody on the team and we will all hold our heads high for that,” Tooley said.

BYU offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick, who directs a unit averaging 456.4 yards a game, including 187.1 on the ground, said the Cougars respect every opponent and treat them all the same in terms of preparation.

“Obviously we are playing a team this week that is very capable,” said Roderick, who faced USC a lot when he was on Utah’s coaching staff.

“Every player on that field for them will look the part physically. They will have the talent and the athleticism and speed to get the job done.

“I mean, they have a lot of good players on their team. And it is the USC Trojans, man,” he continued. “If you overlook them, then you are not very smart.”

Cougars, Trojans on the air

BYU (9-2) at USC (4-6)

Saturday, 8:30 p.m. MST

At the Coliseum, Los Angeles, California

TV: ESPN

Radio: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM