After hanging half a hundred points on their crosstown rivals, Matt Barkley and his Southern California teammates returned to the Coliseum locker room to find T-shirts on their chairs proclaiming the Trojans to be the Pac-12 South champions.
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Sanctions will keep USC out of the conference title game. These resilient Trojans still believed they proved which team should be on a flight from Los Angeles to Eugene, Ore., next week.
Barkley passed for 423 yards and six touchdowns in his possible Coliseum farewell, Robert Woods set the conference’s single-season receptions record while catching 12 passes for 113 yards and two TDs, and No. 10 USC finished its resurgent season with a 50-0 demolition of Pac-12 title game-bound UCLA on Saturday night.
Marqise Lee had 13 catches for 224 yards and two TDs during a showcase of offensive brilliance by the Trojans (10-2, 7-2), who are banned from postseason play under heavy NCAA sanctions for violations that occurred before these players arrived at USC. The Trojans still went out in style, jumping to a 29-point halftime lead before posting their largest victory in the city championship game since 1930, the rivalry’s second year.
”We’ve worked hard for this, and I think we deserve to celebrate this,” said Barkley, who surpassed Matt Leinart’s single-season conference record for touchdown passes. ”We knew (about the postseason ban) coming into this year, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We just tried to take advantage of every opportunity we did have.”
USC won seven of its final eight games capped by this utter obliteration of the Bruins (6-6, 5-4), who will represent the division at Oregon next week despite finishing two games behind the Trojans in the South standings.
Earlier this week, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel said he felt the Bruins had ”closed the gap more” with the Trojans, who won 10 games for the eighth time in the past decade.
Mind the gap, UCLA.
”They took it very personally,” USC coach Lane Kiffin said. ”That’s a pretty strong statement to make. Did it motivate them? I don’t know, but it was talked about a lot, and not much by me. I think they felt disrespected.”
Kevin Prince passed for 261 yards for UCLA, which had won three of four heading into the city championship game. The Bruins flouted rivalry tradition and unveiled an all-white look in a game usually played in both clubs’ colored home uniforms, but the Trojans left them with nothing but grass stains on the backs of those slick new jerseys.
Despite the Bruins’ Pac-12 title game berth, Neuheisel’s job is thought to be in jeopardy after his fourth inconsistent season. Athletic director Dan Guerrero said Neuheisel will coach in Friday’s title game, but the program will be evaluated after that.
”Tonight they were clearly the superior team,” Neuheisel said. ”I don’t think that’s the case all the time. I believe we can close the gap, and we will. We weren’t good enough to play a marquee team like USC.”
With the Coliseum crowd repeatedly chanting ”One more year!” Barkley was brilliant in what might have been the junior’s final game at USC. He went 35 for 42 and set a Pac-12 record with his 39th touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter, hitting Woods from 41 yards out to surpass Leinart’s mark. Barkley also surpassed his own school record set earlier this year with 35 completions.
Barkley and left tackle Matt Kalil are near-certain first-round NFL draft picks, but they claim they haven’t decided whether to return for their senior seasons and a shot at a national title with a team that’s likely to be among the nation’s most talented next year despite severe NCAA scholarship restrictions that start in 2012. Barkley again declined to speculate on his decision, saying he’ll figure it out soon.
”Unless he wants to do it, just to be a special Trojan, he ain’t coming back,” Kiffin said. ”He’s every bit ready to go to the NFL. It’s just going to be a decision, does he want to do something really unique? He might be the guy to do that.”
Woods broke Keyshawn Johnson’s 1995 record with his 103rd catch during the first half, while Lee joined Woods as a 1,000-yard receiver. Rhett Ellison and Randall Telfer also caught TD passes from Barkley, who had 29 scoring passes and just four interceptions in his last eight games.
Curtis McNeal added a 73-yard TD run as USC beat UCLA for the 12th time in the last 13 meetings.
Kiffin had no mercy on his rival while claiming the Victory Bell. USC went for a 2-point conversion after its third touchdown, and Barkley attempted 50-yard passes in his first two plays after halftime, hitting Lee for a 52-yard score with the second throw to take a 36-0 lead. Kiffin and Neuheisel still shared a warm postgame handshake.
The Bruins failed to score on three drives inside the USC 25 in the first half, with Prince throwing an end-zone interception to T.J. McDonald. USC’s defense preserved its first shutout since Nov. 1, 2008, by stopping the Bruins on fourth down at the 7 with 2:48 to play.
”Life still goes on. We still have the opportunity to do something big in the Pac-12 championship,” said UCLA tailback Derrick Coleman, who was stopped on fourth-and-goal at the USC 1 in the first quarter. ”That was a shot to the gut for everybody. We can’t take anything for granted. We’ve got to out and take it.”
USC hadn’t shut out UCLA since 2001, the only other time since 1947.