Sun Nov 27 01:49am EST
USC 50, UCLA 0.
Officially, this is how it's going to work: At 7-2 in Pac-12 games, USC has the conference's blessing to claim a first-place finish in the South Division. Which is entirely accurate, because USC did finish in first place in the South Division, by two full games over runner-up UCLA, and now with a resounding head-to-head tiebreaker for good measure. But the strictures and conventions of NCAA probation still forbid USC from accepting any postseason invite. Next week, it will be the Bruins limping into Eugene, Ore., as the representatives of the South in the first ever Pac-12 Championship Game.
In reality, it's like this: USC notches the most lopsided final score in the cross-town rivalry since 1930, guarantees a top-10 finish in the AP poll and walks out of the Coliseum as the best team in the league. Most of the Trojans showed up at the postgame press conference in t-shirts that said "USC FOOTBALL: 2011 SOUTH DIVISION CHAMPIONS" to commemorate what everyone just saw with their own eyes. They didn't even need to include "PAC-12" to drive home the point.
The final score had done a perfectly fine job of that already, punctuating the message with a 41-yard strike from Matt Barkley to Robert Woods early in the fourth quarter that extended the lead to an even fifty. Because why not fifty? The Trojans could have named their score. The bomb to Woods was Barkley's sixth touchdown pass of the night, the third covering at least 40 yards, matching the school record he set against Colorado earlier this month and leaving him just shy of career highs for passing yards (424) and efficiency (215.3).
Four of those scores went to his top two receivers, Woods and true freshman Marqise Lee, who combined for 337 yards on 25 catches. Altogether, USC scored touchdowns on seven of its first eight offensive possessions; UCLA countered by failing to score on any of five trips into Trojan territory. Good luck against the Ducks, guys.
If it was Barkley's last game before he bails for the NFL Draft, it was his best, and may have added a few extra bucks to his future bank account. If it wasn't, it was the first stop for USC's campaign to open 2012 at the top of the preseason polls with the postseason ban in the past and the most loaded lineup in the country returning virtually intact.
The offense alone is terrifying enough. Junior tailback Curtis McNeal went over 1,000 yards for the season tonight, despite spending the first half of it relegated to third string. Sophomore Woods and Lee are the most lethal 1-2 receiving punch in the nation already, with more than 2,400 yards and 28 touchdowns between them on 184 catches. Freshman tight ends Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble have nine touchdowns on 39 grabs. Freshman receivers Kyle Prater and George Farmer — arguably the two most hyped athletes on the roster after arriving at the top of their respective recruiting classes in back-to-back seasons — are still trying to get a few snaps in edgewise.
Including Barkley, the 2012 Trojans are scheduled to bring back 22 of the 24 players listed as possible starters for this game, including all five starters on the offensive line, a future top-10 pick at left tackle, the No. 1 pass rusher in the Pac-12, three freshman linebackers and the entire secondary. Eleven of that number are currently freshmen and sophomores. If it still includes Barkley, the question isn't if USC will open at the top of the polls, but by what margin.
If six weeks are any indication, where the hottest arm in college football is involved, it's not going to be close.