USC last week played its best game of the season against Utah. Now the Trojans face Washington in Seattle on Saturday in a matchup that could propel them past their next few opponents into next month's highly anticipated home game against Oregon.
We take a look at 10 things to watch in tomorrow's action.
1. Matt Barkley. It sort of went unnoticed at the time, but USC's quarterback really had a fantastic game against the Utes. He wasn't perfect, but he was pretty close -- it wasn't far off from his best games late in the 2011 season. Can he keep that going against the Huskies? If he does, don't be surprised if his name reappears in Heisman race charts next week. Seattle is also the only Pac-12 city Barkley has not played in yet.
2. Keith Price. USC coach Lane Kiffin has referred to Washington's Price all week as an "elite quarterback." Part of that is standard coach-speak during game week, but Price is a threat -- a bigger threat than the Trojans have faced at the position all season. Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib was probably the best of the bunch in USC's first five games, but he still left something to be desired. Price can be quite good, although he hasn't played particularly well this year, with his numbers coming up short compared to last season.
3. McNeal, Redd and Morgan. D.J. Morgan sure got healthy at the right time, huh? USC's top two running backs were hurt against Utah. Imagine if Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd had been out for an extended period of a previous game and the Trojans had to use Soma Vainuku for a stretch. McNeal and Redd have said they'll play this week, but with the way Morgan played last week, it's likely he'll get some opportunities, too. It looks like the Trojans' ball-carrier rotation is going to shape up as follows: Redd, McNeal, then Morgan. Let's see if that's right this week.
4. Kiffin-Sarkisian. It's an ideal coaching rivalry. Two coaches who used to work together and are still friends will go against each other for the third time, and their similarities are undeniable. Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian are good recruiters, they're about the same age, and both are in charge of up-and-down teams this season. It's not just two men from the same coaching tree; it's two men who shared coaching responsibilities as recently as six years ago and co-recruited Barkley.
5. The second corner. It's gotten near breaking-point status now: Torin Harris hasn't played corner consistently. But Kiffin and secondary coach Marvin Sanders are apparently convinced that he's the Trojans' best option there, so they're going with him -- again -- over Kevon Seymour and Josh Shaw, among others. If Harris has another poor performance, you have to figure he'll be removed from the starting lineup for at least USC's next game. This is a big game for him, then.
6. Justin Wilcox's crew. It doesn't get much more feast-or-famine than this. Three times this season, Washington's defense has allowed 13 or fewer points. (Predictably, the Huskies won all three games.) Two other times, against much tougher opponents, the Huskies have allowed an average of more than 46 points. Basically, it's not hard to guess the outcome of a UW game based on its defensive performance. Justin Wilcox, the unit's coordinator, gained a lot of praise in college football circles after his D held Stanford to 13 points last month, but very little was said after Oregon easily dropped 52 on the Huskies last week in Eugene.
7. USC's D-line. Does anybody out there realize that USC's defensive line has drastically outperformed expectations through five games this season? Seriously, the Trojans' line was by far their biggest question mark two months ago, and it's become one of their most consistent position groups not halfway into the season. It's been so effective that you have to question whether Devon Kennard will return late in the year even if he is healthy. Wouldn't it make more sense for the senior defensive end to use his redshirt season and come back next year, when the Trojans could use him as more than a reserve?
8. Telfer and Grimble. There have been mistakes from the third-year tight end duo, sure. But there also have been fantastic, wide-receiver-esque catches, too, like the one-handed touchdown grab Randall Telfer pulled down against Utah. So why hasn't Kiffin tried to get the ball to them more? That was the expectation after Telfer and Xavier Grimble surged at the end of last season, but they've fallen off their 2011 pace, combining for just 16 catches and 204 yards this season.
9. Big spotlight. The game's taking place at CenturyLink Field, which coincidentally will be the second NFL stadium the Trojans play in this season after MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, N.J.) in Week 2. There's definitely a different aura, and CenturyLink is known for being loud -- even louder than Husky Stadium. The Seattle Seahawks will be playing the New England Patriots on the same field the next day. What kind of effect will that have on the Trojans? We'll know shortly after kickoff, but Kiffin said this week he expects his team to come out fast after its extended week of preparation. Those words mean something from Kiffin, too -- he doesn't always say that.
10. No more games until 2015. There's been some weird scheduling between these two teams in recent years. First, Washington had to travel to USC two years in a row (in 2010 and 2011) when the Pac-10 morphed into the Pac-12. Now, the Huskies and Trojans won't play again until 2015 -- and not in Seattle until 2016 -- unless both teams qualify. So if USC wants to secure any Washington-area recruits the next couple of years, it might be a good idea to win this game to make a good impression.