It's fitting that Matt Barkley's odyssey for a Pac-12 championship begins in Palo Alto. No team has given his USC Trojans more fits than the Stanford Cardinal, the lone team left in the conference Barkley has yet to beat. USC has been beaten at their own game with a more physical, bruising attack that controlled the clock and the field. Even when the games were closely contested, it always seemed that Stanford was one step
And it really hasn't been the Stanford defense that's been the one to stop Barkley's Trojans. It's been the man on the other side of the football field that USC could find no answer for, the man that always seemed to beat Barkley at his own game.
Andrew Luck is gone now, so that stigma won't always heal for Barkley, but a win could very well bury away some of those pains.
Luck beat Barkley three times in the three seasons they were freshman, sophomores and juniors. In some ways, the matchup was always a bit unfair--Luck redshirted, Barkley started from the beginning. Barkley did boast better wide receivers, but Luck countered with multiple tight ends and H-backs that flustered USC's defense into constant mismatches the still-developing defense always struggled to counter.
The tight ends and H-backs remain, but Luck is gone now, and Josh Nunes is in his place. Nunes has proven to be inconsistent in his first two games against San Jose State and Duke. Stepfan Taylor has yet to get going even head coach David Shaw remains pretty tempered in his expectations. Four of the most vital cogs in Stanford's BCS success are gone offensively, and the unit that remains just is missing pieces everywhere to really be that good offensively.
Stanford's defense should hopefully show better than their first two games of the season; their linebacking corps is one of the deepest in the country and should have the capacity to blitz and get to Barkley offensively. However, considering Barkley and USC averaged over 450 yards of offense the last two meetings, USC shouldn't be that too slowed down by a sack here and there on the supposedly slow grass of Palo Alto.
Indeed, it's time for Barkley to start taking care of business. No more quick screens and short passes, no more dawdling around with the safe throws when defenses will do their best to throw everything they have at him, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee. USC has to start showing what they're capable of offensively and defensively after struggling against Syracuse.
Barkley and USC have to know this game would signal big things. Stanford is a much weaker unit than the squads that beat him before, and USC is in one of the strongest positions they'll ever be as a football team. A victory would be satisfactory, but a beatdown would be demoralizing to the rest of the Pac-12; if the Cardinal can't do anything against a Trojan squad they've proven they can beat, how can they expect to succeed?
That'll be Barkley's only way to top Luck as a college football player: Hardware. Win the Pac-12. Win a national championship. Start showing he's the Heisman candidate we all think he is. Then Barkley can stop staring up at Luck among the Pac-12 quarterbacking greats; he can stand right beside him.
The quest for the Roses begins tonight. It's time for Matt Barkley to show us all why he decided to come back.