The city could be UCLA’s for the taking

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The sweat still dripping, the stains still fresh, Rahim Moore ran from the Rose Bowl’s grassy stage to a sideline stage.

Once there, he grabbed a microphone, an emotion, and potentially a whole lot of grief.

After his team shut down Arizona State, the UCLA safety shouted across town.

“We’re gonna beat ‘SC!” Moore screamed to the roaring crowd.

Afterward, when asked to explain, he sheepishly shrugged.

“That was a cheerleading thing,” he said. “I don’t make any predictions.”

But he did. And a year ago, he wouldn’t have dared. For most of the last 10 years, none of the Bruins would have dared.

Say this much for the Bruins after their 23-13 victory over Arizona State on a giddy Pasadena Saturday.

They dare.

They’ve beaten USC once in the last 10 years, been outscored 337-155 during that time, been pounded into two head coaching changes by three different Heisman Trophy winners.

Yet this time, this week, they will dare.

This time, they agree with the hopes of thousands of blue-bundled fans whose chant echoed through the chilly hills here in the final minutes Saturday.

In the city championship this Saturday at the Coliseum, the Bruins truly think they have a chance.

“Nothing more clear than that,” said linebacker Reggie Carter. “Beat ‘SC.”

They are buoyed by their streak, three consecutive victories, only the second time in 10 years they’ve gone into this game on even this modest a roll.

“Our attitude is up, our swag is up,” said defensive end Korey Bosworth.

They are inspired by their luck, five recovered fumbles and an interception against the Sun Devils, two of the turnovers returned for touchdowns, balls landing on the tips of their hands and over their hearts.

“This was magic,” Coach Rick Neuheisel said.

They are moved by their growth, the Bruins finding a quarterback who rarely makes mistakes and a running back -- Chane Moline? -- who rolled for 84 yards against the Pacific 10’s toughest defense.

“The last couple of games have produced changes,” said Bosworth. “This team is really comfortable we can make things happen.”

And, let’s not kid ourselves, they’ve also noticed USC’s perceived vulnerability.

The Bruins won’t crow about it, but they’ve seen Oregon and Stanford run over the Trojans, they’ve heard about the odd moments of chaos over there, they’ve sensed a difference.

“They’re not having as good a season as people thought,” said UCLA cornerback Alterraun Verner, who returned an interception for a touchdown Saturday. “But of course, they’re still USC.”

And, yes, this is still UCLA, seemingly cursed since I wrote that it was a Bruins football town in October 2001.

Since that column, which I’ll hear about approximately 1,345 times this week -- heck, every week -- the Bruins have only that 13-9 victory in 2006.

No, I’m not writing about Bruins dominance now. But I do think it’s foolish not to believe that, this time, UCLA has a puncher’s chance.

“We’ll be excited about taking our swings,” Neuheisel said.

While Saturday’s win, their sixth this season, assures the Bruins of bowl contention, a seventh would make them a virtual lock for a bowl bid, piling motivation on motivation.

“The game is always big, but this year is going to be even more special,” Verner said.

For the first time in several years, UCLA has not only extra motivation, but manpower.

Don’t tell anybody, but the Bruins’ freshman quarterback is playing better than the Trojans’ freshman quarterback.

While Kevin Prince completed only 15 of 31 passes Saturday, his mobility led to 42 yards rushing, and his smarts led to no turnovers.

“It’s big,” he said coolly of next week, “but you can’t get caught up in the whole scene.”

And, shhh, the Bruins’ offensive line is playing at least as well as the Trojans’ offensive line.

Prince was not sacked, and the Bruins totaled 131 yards rushing against the nation’s 21st-ranked rushing defense.

“It was fun to watch us slug it out a little bit,” Neuheisel said.

Finally, quietly, the soul of UCLA’s defense is playing bet- ter than USC’s defense, having allowed zero rushing touchdowns in its last three games.

During the same stretch, while playing tougher opponents Stanford and Oregon, the Trojans have allowed nine rushing touchdowns.

“We’re on a bit of a high right now,” Verner said.

That outward optimism extends even up to the press box, the game-day home of former Trojans offensive coordinator Norm . . . nah.

“I’m sure USC is still pretty good,” Norm Chow said, smiling.

But everywhere else here Saturday, for the first time in a long time, the Bruins were openly believing, cheering and hugging and dying to get back to work, a team soaring into the Coliseum on a wing and a dare.