Barkley and the Trojans know there's only one path to the Rose Bowl, and it starts with rival UCLA.
By RAHSHAUN HAYLOCKFS West
LOS ANGELES - Matt Barkley can sum up his time in the UCLA rivalry in six words.
“Crazy ending. Hurt ankle. And Blowout,” Barkley said.
Simple and to the point, each description gives short detail to each of the three previous meetings.
As Barkley and the No. 18
Trojans prepare to visit No. 17 UCLA at the Rose Bowl this Saturday, there are other words the can be used to describe his upcoming meeting with UCLA.
USC has a chance to redeem themselves from what has been a lackluster season thus far. Entering the season as the preseason No. 1, the Trojans have failed to meet national championship expectations. However, "The Granddaddy of Them All" is still within reach - if, and only if, he can lead the Trojans to a win against the Bruins.
USC has won five straight in the rivalry and 12 of the last 13, including last year’s 50-0 shellacking before walking out of the Coliseum wearing shirts that read “USC Football 2011 South Division Champions.”
The Trojans would have represented the Pac-12 South in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game if not for NCAA sanctions. So, it was the 6-6 Bruins going to Eugene, Oregon instead.
In recent memory, anything that was on the line when the two teams played at the end of the season was on the side of the Trojans in terms of a Rose Bowl berth or a spot in the BCS National Championship. This time around, both sides have something to gain from a win.
USC head coach Lane Kiffin says this week’s game is similar to last year’s in the sense that the Pac-12 South title is on the line.
Of course, that’s not completely true. Sure, USC had T-shirts printed last season but they weren’t recognized as the Pac-12 South champs. They were simply in first place.
It brings back the question that clouded the Trojans at the start of the season: With the bowl ban being lifted, how do the Trojans respond to having something tangible to play for?
Being the preseason No. 1 didn’t do them any favors and with three losses so far on the season, you can say they didn’t handle it well.
Barkley and company have since had to adjust their goals. Stepping inside the Rose Bowl on Saturday will be a reminder of that.
“Hopefully, it’s not our last time playing in the Rose Bowl, so it won’t be that special,” Barkley said.
It’s has been well documented how the USC seniors have never beaten Stanford, going 0-4 in their careers. Well, their luck with UCLA has been the exact opposite, which hits a little closer to home. A win on Saturday will give the USC seniors a perfect 4-0 record against their crosstown rivals. It’s not understated or loss on the senior class, who led by Barkley, had to scramble to try to keep the pieces together as mere freshmen while the school was handed down NCAA sanctions.
“I think it would be important to me,” Barkley said. “Yes, it’s something that I’ll carry with me for years after this.
“Looking back, hopefully I can say that.”
The sanctions propelled UCLA into a grand opportunity to take over the reins of college football in Los Angeles. It wasn’t to be. Under Rick Neuheisel, they were able to put together some solid recruiting classes but didn’t get it to carry over onto the field. As USC had two NCAA imposed bowl-less seasons, the Bruins went through seasons of 4-8 and 6-8. As far as this rivalry goes, UCLA came up winless both years.
Barkley saying that it means something isn’t just because it’s UCLA. Although that is a very large deal, the fact that this streak has happened during a stretch where the Trojans were hit hard by NCAA sanctions, cannot be overlooked.
If USC is able to pull off the win against UCLA this weekend, chances are they’ll face either No. 2 Oregon or No. 13 Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game – teams that have handed them two of their three losses this season.
Kiffin is always bringing up “storylines” and no matter what team it is, Oregon or Stanford, the storylines will be centered around USC trying to avenge an early season loss.
A USC/Oregon Pac-12 title game is one that was expected all along except there were thoughts that a national title berth would be on the line in that situation. There likely will be one for Oregon, giving the Trojans the opportunity to play spoiler.
Facing Stanford will give the USC seniors their fifth and final opportunity to defeat the Cardinal. When they faced earlier this season, the Trojans simply didn’t have a chance against the stout Stanford defensive line without Khaled Holmes anchoring the line and being forced to play a third string center.
It’s "The Battle of L.A." To the winner goes the opportunity to keep their hopes alive for a Rose Bowl berth. For the quarterback, who only has an Emerald Bowl appearance to his name, he'd take it.