The set up: USC, fresh off a monumental win in Oregon the week before, played host to its crosstown rival UCLA for the city championship. Technically, the Pac-12 South Division title was on the line. While the Bruins had already clinched their status as south “representatives” because of the Trojans’ bowl ban, an upset of USC and they would claim the title outright. Earlier in the week, UCLA coach Rick Neuheisel provided some bulletin board material when he said the Bruins had “closed the gap” between the two teams.
The story: The “gap” appears as wide as ever. USC showed it was the class of the south division, and possibly the conference. The 50-0 final score says it all. Junior quarterback Matt Barkley tied the school record he broke earlier this year with six touchdown passes, two each to sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods and freshman wideout Marqise Lee. Both Woods and Lee had double digit catches, and Lee accounted for an astonishing 224 receiving yards. Redshirt freshman tight end Randall Telfer reeled in a touchdown, and senior tight end Rhett Ellison found the end zone in his final game in the Cardinal and Gold. USC found the end zone on its first four possessions of the game and seven of its first eight. Barkley’s final TD pass to Woods broke former Trojan quarterback Matt Leinart’s Pac-12 Conference record as it was his 39th of the season.
On the ground, Curtis McNeal eclipsed 1,000 yards on the season with an impressive 12 carries for 124 yards, including a 73 yard touchdown run with a key block by Lee. As exciting as the offense was, the preservation of the shutout was just as thrilling. Midway through the fourth quarter the Bruins passed on kicking a meaningless field goal, instead rolling the dice and going for the end zone on fourth and goal. The Coliseum crowd was as loud as it was all evening, and exploded when junior safety T.J. McDonald broke up the pass to force a turnover on downs. It was the Bruins’ third time in the red zone all game. On their first drive the Trojan defense made an impressive goal-line stand, stuffing the Bruins on fourth and goal from the one.
Toward the end of the first half the Bruins threatened again, having driven to the Trojan seven. But safety T.J. McDonald came up with an interception in the end zone to thwart the drive. Redshirt freshman linebacker Hayes Pullard paced the team with six tackles, finishing tied with fellow freshman linebacker Dion Bailey for the team lead on the season. In addition, sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey recroded his first two sacks of the season.
The seniors: On offense, the Trojans’ biggest losses will be running back Marc Tyler and tight end Rhett Ellison. Tyler did not start toward the end of the season, and the Trojans could return as many as 10 offensive starters. On defense, linebacker Chris Galippo and defensive lineman Christian Tupou and DaJohn Harris are the graduating role-players. Galippo fell out of favor at the end of the season in favor of freshman Lamar Dawson, meaning the Trojans could return as many as nine defensive starters and 19 of 22 overall.
“One More Year!”: But as has been well documented, it’s more than just the seniors USC could lose. While the chants of the student section — and stadium as a whole — were largely directed at Barkley, there are three other key juniors who could leave for the NFL this offseason. Safety T.J. McDonald is considered the most unlikely of the four, but offensive tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry are considered likely to leave, along with Barkley. Kalil has been talked of as the number two overall pick in the draft, behind Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Up Next: The season is over, but expectations remain high at USC now that the bowl ban is over. If the four juniors return, the Trojans would find themselves on a shortlist of National Championship contenders entering next season and surely start the season in the top five. Barkley is considered to be the most critical asset for the Trojans to retain, but even if all four leave the Trojans will be a top-15 team talent-wise next year.