Let the great quarterback duel of 2011 commence!
Stanford QB Andrew Luck and USC QB Matt Barkley both possess many abilities and various intangibles (We call it the "it" factor, that thing that Simon Cowell searches for and turns him into an irrepressible twat). But they've dueled twice, and twice Luck came out on top, because Luck is a winner and winners win, and Barkley is less of a winner because top winners don't lose. Sports talk alchemy right there for you.
Enter the third match, which might be more important as the other two combined.
In many ways, Saturday's competition in the Coliseum is as much about the future as it is the present. Here you have perhaps the two best pro-style signal-callers in college football set to do battle under the lights, and try and prove that they deserve the fame, the adulation, the alpha dog status. It's all you could ever ask for in a conference that's been deprived of great QB duels since Aaron Rodgers and Matt Leinart patrolled the field, and now will get treated to Barkley-Luck Round III.
The first matchup in the Coliseum wasn't really that much hyped or anticipated, and it shouldn't have been. It was the running game that controlled the day for Stanford, bruising and battering the Trojans to the tune of almost 300+ rushing yards. But while Luck didn't have the most efficient game (completing just over half his passes) and Barkley was zipping footballs around the field (67.7% completion rate), the Stanford QB passed two TDs and ran another one in, while Barkley threw three picks, including one that pretty much wrapped up the game for the Cardinal.
The second one in Palo Alto was a classic.
Barkley had an incredible night, even if much of that took advantage of the skills of his otherworldly receiver Robert Woods. Barkley stared down receivers and still managed to squeeze that ball right into the holes between the Stanford D. Barkley hit his first reads quickly and was good at making plays on the run. Barkley even showed off a new found scrambling ability that you rarely see from the strong but not-quite-athletic quarterback, rushing for over 60 yards on the game. It was a valiant performance.
Barkley was great. Luck was perfect.
Luck shredded Monte Kiffin's Tampa 2 in every which way, using quick hitting plays and attacking the holes in the zone. When the defense got set and Luck couldn't find his initial reads, he moved around in the pocket and found his receivers adjusting to the play or scrambled to make a play. Luck completed five of every six passes he threw that Saturday, and led his team down the field on the game-winning drive as time expired.
If we get even 80% of what we saw in Palo Alto, we're in for a real treat on Saturday night.
The defenses for both sides should be better. Stanford's defense has been playing lights out ever since that game, and USC's defense has been more opportunistic and settled in its second season in the Kiffin regime. Both sides should be tired of the Barkley/Luck talk and will be looking to do some hitting and disrupting of the two. But Luck and Barkley have improved as well, and you figure that eventually these signal-callers will find their way too.
In many ways, this game is more of a statement game for Barkley than it is for Luck, who is cruising along in his dominance over the conference. There are no real big shots for the USC QB after this one. There is no BCS bowl game awaiting the likely end of his college career, no Heisman Trophy that he can possibly collect because of the sins of past Troajns, no Pac-12 championship he'll ever be able to place on his mantlepiece. Barkley will have to settle for something distinctly un-USC: An upset for the ages, one that would resound in Heritage Hall almost as gloriously as the heralded victories over great Notre Dame and UCLA squad of decades past. To deny Stanford their BCS title hopes would be a satisfactory consolation prize in a final season on probation.
This is Barkley's one chance to prove that he can make an offense move just like his counterpart, that he's more than just the guy who throws the ball to Woods, that he knows where to go and when to go with the football. This is Luck's chance to show that no one can really stand against him, that Barkley is truly his second, and that his march toward glory will proceed unchecked.
Time to make your moves gentleman. To the victor goes the spoils.