USC’s Barkley ready for big season finale vs. UCLA

Even if Matt Barkley is down to his last few days as Southern

California’s starting quarterback, he had no plans for reflection

or celebration while the No. 10 Trojans prepared for another

crosstown meeting with UCLA.

And this is certainly no time for crying.

Barkley laughed when USC coach Lane Kiffin recalled the weepy

Coliseum finale of Matt Leinart, the Heisman Trophy winner who

attended the same Orange County high school as Barkley.

Kiffin said the Trojans’ coaching staff will ”make sure

(Barkley) doesn’t pull a Leinart on us. Matt was still crying late

in the first series, started 0 for 5, threw the ball over Mike

(Williams’) head about 10 yards. … If there’s someone that won’t

get rattled, it would be (Barkley).”

USC (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) finishes its season in the city

championship game on Saturday night against the Bruins (6-5, 5-3),

who learned Friday they’ll represent the Pac-12 South in the first

league title game, thanks to division-leading USC’s ineligibility

and Utah’s stunning loss to Colorado.

Although Barkley claims he hasn’t decided whether to return for

his senior year after leading the Trojans through NCAA sanctions

and a two-year postseason ban, he still hopes to wrap up his junior

year in style. He also realizes the importance of keeping intact

his perfect record against USC’s archrivals.

”You probably won’t see me crying,” Barkley said. ”We’ve had

a good season, but it doesn’t mean anything until we finish strong.

This is the game you always look back at, though. The rivalry game

is the most important one.”

USC has won 11 of its last 12 meetings with UCLA, losing only in

2006. While the Bruins have been inconsistent all season, winning

consecutive games just once, the Trojans have improved

significantly since the start of the season, winning six of their

last seven games with last week’s landmark upset victory at

Oregon.

The Bruins thought they would have much more on the line

Saturday than the Victory Bell. UCLA spent all week figuring it

would have to beat USC to earn a spot in the inaugural Pac-12 title

game, but the Utes’ inexplicable home loss to the lowly Buffaloes

on Friday punched the Bruins’ ticket for the league’s first title

game next week at Oregon or Stanford before UCLA even took the

Coliseum field.

UCLA still would prefer not to back into the title game – and

the Bruins probably must win one of these two remaining games to

avoid finishing 6-7, which likely would prevent them from going to

a bowl game.

”All of the other stuff with title games and bowl games is

great, but we’re only thinking about beating USC,” UCLA tailback

Derrick Coleman said. ”You can’t really think about all that other

stuff.”

While the Bruins prepared for the unknown this week, the Trojans

did their best to beat back feelings of redemption from that win at

Autzen Stadium. A letdown would be natural after such a victory,

but USC says it won’t be caught looking ahead – since there’s

nothing to see up there except a promising 2012.

”It feels good to be on the team that all came together,

regardless of no bowl games or whatever sanctions,” said tailback

Marc Tyler, who also will finish his career Saturday. ”We came out

and played hard for all the players who were here in the past. It’s

about the Trojan Family this week.”

But UCLA rarely has this much at stake in the city championship,

which pleases Bruins coach Rick Neuheisel. After an up-and-down

year featuring blowout losses and gritty victories, UCLA is bowl

eligible – for now – and headed to the league title game.

Who knows, a win over USC might even save Neuheisel’s job.

Neuheisel returned to his alma mater four years ago with bold

pronouncements about ending the football monopoly in Los Angeles,

but only a win over USC would allow anybody to take him seriously.

The coach sees progress toward that goal, even if it hasn’t been

reflected in the city championship game.

”The gap has closed,” Neuheisel said Monday in a quote that

was posted on the walls at USC’s Heritage Hall, albeit in a

slightly altered form. ”We’re much closer to (USC) than we were

when I first got here.”

That’s up for debate, but at least the Bruins’ recent

improvements are quantifiable. UCLA is coming off a 45-6 win over

Colorado in which the Bruins posted their biggest point total and

largest margin of victory in Neuheisel’s four seasons.

”We’ve gained a lot of confidence in the last few weeks, the

past month,” said UCLA quarterback Kevin Prince, whose grasp of

the pistol offense has been the key to the Bruins’ three wins in

their last four games. ”We’re really starting to develop an

identity on both sides of the ball.”

Although players from both schools revere this game’s history,

UCLA will do something new at the Coliseum. Athletic director Dan

Guerrero has acknowledged the Bruins will debut a new uniform look,

reportedly an all-white ensemble.

Trouble is, both teams traditionally wear their home jerseys in

the city championship game. The tradition was revived just three

years ago to widespread acclaim at the behest of Neuheisel and USC

coach Pete Carroll, but UCLA appears determined to ditch it again.

Guerrero hasn’t explained his curious timing for the uniform

switch.

The city championship game divides families, none more literally

than the McDonalds of Fresno. T.J. McDonald is the Trojan’s

starting free safety, while little brother Tevin McDonald starts at

the same position for UCLA.

Tevin said the Trojans didn’t recruit him, but he didn’t want to

follow in the footsteps of his older brother and their famous

father, NFL veteran Tim McDonald, who also coached both of his boys

in high school.

”They’ll be L.A. fans,” Tevin said of his parents. ”As long

as we both stay healthy and play well, they’ll be happy.”