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Game Day: A happier new year in Los Angeles football

Editor’s note: This is the Monday, January 2, edition of the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

Good morning and happy new year. If you’re an L.A. football fan taking stock, you’re probably finding that things look better at the start of 2023 than they did at the start of 2022.

First, a note on that other football game happening today: The Rose Bowl won’t involve USC or UCLA but is well worth watching. Utah faces Penn State in a top-10 battle whose key matchups include Utes quarterback Cam Rising vs. the Nittany Lions’ defense. Check the websites of the Pasadena Star-News and other SCNG papers, as well our journalists’ tweets, during the day for the latest from Jim Alexander, Mirjam Swanson, John Davis and photographer Keith Birmingham.

Now, how does the new year look for the L.A. college and pro teams?

USC, ranked eighth by the Associated Press, faces Tulane, ranked 14th, in the Cotton Bowl in Arlington, Texas, at 10 a.m. today.

Adam Grosbard, our USC beat writer, says a win wouldn’t only give the Trojans their first 12-win season since 2008 in coach Lincoln Riley’s and quarterback Caleb Williams’ first year in L.A.; it could give the Trojans a running start toward a national championship next season.

They’re definitely in a better place than they were a year ago, when they were coming off a four-win season.

UCLA lost its bowl game, a wild, back-and-forth Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, to Pitt on Friday.

Despite that disappointment, and the fact the headline on Eric He’s season review emphasizes UCLA’s stumbles after a 6-0 start, the 18th-ranked Bruins finished with their first nine-win season since 2014 and should keep their first season-ending top-25 ranking since then.

The Bruins, like the Trojans, are better off than they were one year ago, when they were 8-4 and unranked.

In the NFL, one of L.A.’s teams clearly has risen in the past 12 months.

The Chargers, who clinched their first playoff berth since the 2018 season last week, ran their winning streak to four games yesterday by beating the Rams 31-10, Brandon Staley prevailing over Sean McVay in the coaches’ first meaningful clash.

Watching a healthy Mike Williams and Keenan Allen catch Justin Herbert’s passes made Alexander think this win streak could continue deep into the playoffs.

As for the team the Chargers beat, Cam Akers’ second straight 100-yard rushing game was the bright spot yesterday, and the running back is one of few Rams who don’t want this season to end.

You don’t have to be too much of a glass-half-full type of person, though, to think that even the 5-11 Rams are better off than they were on this morning a year ago. Back then, they were 11-4 and had clinched at least a wild-card playoff spot. But they weren’t yet Super Bowl champions or even on short lists of contenders.

While the Rams’ championship defense is over and the active roster isn’t in great shape right now, fans shouldn’t forget how that Super Bowl triumph in February 2022 elevated the franchise and showed what’s possible in L.A. football.

It’s all possible in 2023.

TODAY

USC seeks its first bowl victory since the 2016 season, the eighth-ranked Trojans facing 14th-ranked Tulane in the Cotton Bowl (10 a.m., ESPN).
Utah, No. 7, meets Penn State, No. 9, in the last Rose Bowl before the Pac-12 vs. Big Ten format is scrapped for the 12-team College Football Playoff (2 p.m., ESPN).
Lakers, 2-2 on their trip, finish it up against the Hornets (4 p.m., SPSN). Lakers update.
Clippers, coming off a 2-3 trip, host the Heat (7:30 p.m., BSSC). Clippers update.
Ducks face the Flyers, who just beat the Kings on a western swing (7 p.m., BSW). Ducks news.
Santa Anita runs a 10-race holiday card (noon, FanDuel TV) after embracing caution and canceling in rainy conditions on New Year’s Day.

NEXT QUESTION

Has the Chargers’ four-game win streak changed your assessment of what they could do in the playoffs? Share your opinion and reason by email (KModesti@scng.com) or on Twitter (@KevinModesti).

280 CHARACTERS

“This is the dumbest Raiders season since last season.” – Damian Calhoun (@DamianCalhoun) as Las Vegas lost a lead and rallied to tie before losing in overtime against the 49ers.

1,000 WORDS

Runaway win: Chargers running back Austin Ekeler outsprints Rams linebackers Leonard Floyd (54) and Ernest Jones (53) on a 72-yard touchdown play in the second quarter of the Chargers’ victory yesterday at SoFi Stadium. Photo is by Will Lester of the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and SCNG.

LET’S TALK

Thanks for reading the newsletter. Send suggestions, comments and questions by email at KModesti@scng.com and via Twitter @KevinModesti.

Editor’s note: Thanks for reading the “Game Day with Kevin Modesti” newsletter. To receive the newsletter in your inbox, sign up here.

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