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
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
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
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
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.”