NCF Nation: USC-Ohio State coverage

Ivan Maisel is joined by Todd McShay, Big Ten blogger Adam Rittenberg and Pac-10 blogger Ted Miller to break down the two biggest games of the weekend: Notre Dame-Michigan and USC-Ohio State.

Posted by's Ted Miller

The true freshman stepped into the huddle. He told his teammates not to worry. He would lead them to victory in a hostile environment.
 Brad Schloss/Icon SMI
 Matt Barkley faces a true test going into the Horseshoe for his first start on the road.

And Tennessee lineman Jason Layman turned to Peyton Manning and told him to "Shut up and call the play."

It's not easy being a true freshman quarterback for many reasons, including veteran teammates who couldn't care less about a scintillating prep pedigree.

USC guard Jeff Byers is a 24-year-old, sixth-year senior. He's the leader of a veteran offensive line that might be the nation's best unit. He's seen just about everything while blocking for three different quarterbacks who are now in the NFL.

Nonetheless, if true freshman Matt Barkley gave him an earful about a blown assignment, he said he'd take it without complaint.

"Oh yeah, because the kid is good," Byers said. "But I don't think he'd be one of the guys who would say that. He'd be one who'd slap you on the butt and say, 'Let's go get 'em. We all make mistakes.'"

And what about Barkley making his first road start inside the unfriendly confines of Ohio Stadium, aka the Horseshoe?

"I think he'll thrive in those kinds of places because he's such a great competitor," Byers said.

There are two powerful, competing forces at work amid the pregame hype for No. 3 USC's visit to No. 8 Ohio State.

One camp in L.A. provides a collective shoulder shrug when asked about the combination of Barkley and infamous atmosphere of the Horseshoe, where the Buckeyes are 24-1 in nonconference games under coach Jim Tressel, the lone defeat coming in 2005 to eventual national champion Texas.

Barkley has repeatedly said he's not worried, and even added a "bring it on" after practice Tuesday, which might help turn the volume of the 102,000 on hand up another notch from 11 to 12.

The other force counters that Barkley is still a true freshman -- he turned 19 this week -- and that he's never played in an environment like the Horseshoe and that no matter how poised he may be, that environment will at least distract him even if he's not intimidated.

And distracted quarterbacks tend to make mistakes, particularly young ones.

USC coach Pete Carroll has fielded the question 100 different ways since the Trojans stomped San Jose State 56-3 in the opener, and the media haven't worn down his faith that Barkley will not only be fine but will excel because of the environment.

"I would think he's going to have fun with it and he's going to be excited to see what it looks like to be in an opponent's stadium of that stature and all," Carroll said. "And then he's going to go play. I don't think it will matter to him at all. That's just the way he's been and how he's handled things and he has such confidence and such comfort in his own skin. That will be extended into the setting as well."

New USC starting quarterbacks have good track records in big, early-season nonconference road games under Carroll. Matt Leinart was a sophomore when the Trojans whipped No. 6 Auburn 23-0. Junior John David Booty was brilliant -- completing 24 of 35 passes for 261 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions -- when the Trojans bludgeoned Arkansas 50-14.

But neither was a true freshman.

Of course, the USC offense isn't only about Barkley. Far from it. Nine starters are back from 2008, and there's depth at every position.

"If you threw a freshman quarterback in there and everyone else was a rookie, it would be frightening," Tressel said. "But the beauty that Pete Carroll has there with Matt Barkley being in the game is that the offensive line is perfectly choreographed and all those folks he's got around him -- handing it to and throwing it to and protecting him and so forth -- that is as good of a situation as you can have."

Moreover, USC contends that Barkley is a true freshman in title only.

Receiver Damian Williams is tight with Aaron Corp, who lost the starting job to Barkley. But Williams said he knew Barkley was special early in spring practices, which Barkley participated in after graduating early from Mater Dei High School in Newport Beach, Calif.

"He was making throws that I didn't think high school quarterbacks were capable of making," Williams said.

Barkley also immediately asserted himself in the huddle against San Jose State, even when the offense sputtered in the first quarter.

"He came to the huddle calm and collected ... he gave us a couple of pep talks in the huddle," running back Joe McKnight said.

Byers was particularly impressed by how quickly Barkley put bad plays behind him, including the lone sack the Trojans surrendered.

"I thought that was a defining moment," Byers said. "I loved how he was in the huddle. More important than how he played -- his numbers -- was just how he handled himself and controlled the offense and led us."

Ah, but that competing force just smirks. To it, all this feels like a pep talk for a young man who is about to enter the belly of the beast.

A Horseshoe? On the Buckeyes side of things, Ohio Stadium is grinning as it anticipates the arrival of Matt Barkley.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

There will be many more starts and other big stages for Terrelle Pryor, who's expected to spend at least another season and possibly two at the helm of the Ohio State offense.

But make no mistake: Pryor's long-term legacy as Ohio State's quarterback will be shaped by what he does Saturday night against No. 3 USC (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET).
 Jamie Sabau/Getty Images
 Saturday's showdown with USC could prove to be a defining game for QB Terrelle Pryor.

There are no guarantees, especially with a loss to the Trojans, that Pryor will face another team of USC's caliber in his Buckeyes career. Sure, Ohio State's dominance of the Big Ten could continue, but Penn State seems to be catching up quickly in the conference. The Buckeyes begin a two-game series against Miami next season, but the U. isn't USC.

Let's not underplay what's on the line for Ohio State in this game. The Buckeyes need to change the perception that they can no longer win big games. They need to change the perception that they're just the best of a bad bunch in the Big Ten. They need to prove that a Big Ten team can compete with the squad that has done more to ruin the league's national reputation than any other.

For Pryor, this is a chance to prove himself as a complete quarterback and an effective field leader. He boasts the unique combination of size and skills that, if used correctly, could give the Trojans defense some major headaches.

"If he comes out and plays well, it could throw his name right in the middle of the Heisman race," Ohio State kicker Aaron Pettrey said. "It could definitely be a defining game for him, and hopefully he comes out and takes control of it."

Pryor saw the field against USC last year, but he couldn't do much to change the outcome. He was used in spots throughout the first half and showed good poise as a true freshman playing in a rough environment. But by the time he ran a full series late in the third quarter, Ohio State found itself in a 35-3 hole.

He took over the starting job the following week and endured ups and downs leading a veteran offense that had some strong loyalties to his predecessor, Todd Boeckman. After a strong offseason in which he improved his passing footwork and fundamentals, Pryor now leads a unit featuring many of his peers. Though Ohio State didn't name a season captain from the offense, the general sentiment suggests that this is Pryor's team.

"He's definitely taken ownership; that’s the role of the quarterback," senior right tackle Jim Cordle said. "He's more comfortable and obviously knows that all of us on the offense trust him and are more confident in him. There's a comfort level for him in that role."

Pryor created a stir last week when he paid tribute to childhood idol Michael Vick by writing Vick's name on one of his eyeblack stickers. The sophomore, who has been shielded from the media this week and throughout most of his college career, also took heat for some of his postgame comments.

Though the criticism seems excessive, Pryor is the type of polarizing player who will always find his way into the spotlight. He's talented and brash, saying in April, "There's some teams out there that are waiting for us, and there's teams that we owe some stuff to. We're just going to bring it."

Pryor no doubt included USC in his thoughts. Saturday night, he has the chance to back it up.

"He looks like he wants to win the game for us this week," Cordle said. "If he can beat USC, that’s obviously pretty defining."

Blogger debate: USC-Ohio State

September, 10, 2009
AP Photo
Quarterbacks Terrelle Pryor and Matt Barkley will be the focal point for Saturday's Ohio State-USC throwdown.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg and Ted Miller

All eyes will be on Columbus this weekend as No. 3 USC visits No. 8 Ohio State (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Before the two teams lock horns on the banks of the Olentangy River, we debated several key questions heading into the mega matchup.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I look at this USC defense and don't see a glaring weakness. Still, several mobile quarterbacks [Vince Young, Dennis Dixon] have hurt the Trojans in the past. How do you expect USC to defend Terrelle Pryor and does Pryor give the Buckeyes a fighting chance in this game?

Ted Miller: I think Pryor gives the Buckeyes a fighting chance because he can make something out of nothing when a play breaks down -- and the USC defense is good at breaking down plays. While USC fans would debate you on the health of their defense vs. Vince Young, the fact is the Trojans learned from that game that you need to account for an athletic quarterback -- you can't just run your base defense and expect gap control and rush lanes to take care of things. There surely will be some sort of spying, whether with one guy or a shift of guys. On the plus side for USC, this is a really fast defense. It's much faster at linebacker than last year. Malcolm Smith is fast -- his brother is an NFL receiver -- and Michael Morgan is a 4.4 guy. Toss in end Everson Griffen and you've got some guys who can really run on the perimeter of the front-seven. Moreover, middle linebacker Chris Galippo implied to me that this will be more disciplined defense. As extraordinary as Brian Cushing, Clay Matthews and Rey Maualuga were last year, they, at times, freelanced, looking for big plays. That means the Trojans won't be as likely abandon their assigned gaps or let contain break down.

As long as we're talking quarterbacks, what do you think about the poise issue for both guys? USC's Matt Barkley claims he doesn't get nervous. You buy that at the Horseshoe? And how will Pryor react on this big stage?

AR: The Shoe remains the toughest place to play in the Big Ten, getting the slightest of edges against Penn State's Beaver Stadium. Barkley's nerves will be put to the test. It will be extremely loud, especially at the start of the game, and the south end zone addition really makes the decibels rise. I'd imagine USC will go to its strength right away, pound away with those tremendous running backs and athletic offensive line and give Barkley some time to get settled. Everything I've heard about this kid -- from yourself and other observers -- is that he's the real deal. I saw true freshman quarterback Tate Forcier show no nerves last week for Michigan in the Big House, but then again, he was playing at home. Ohio State's defensive line is the strength of the team, and it has to rattle Barkley early for the Buckeyes to have a shot. As for Pryor, he has shown some toughness late in games, particularly against Wisconsin last year. He's certainly more comfortable as a passer, but he can't get away from what makes him special and needs to make plays with his feet. I still haven't seen a team contain Pryor on the move, but he needs the freedom from head coach Jim Tressel and the willingness from within to really cut loose against USC.

Ohio State's defensive line is the team's strongest unit. Same could be said for USC's offensive line. How do you see that matchup shaking out, and will Ohio State need to use speed (Thaddeus Gibson, Cameron Heyward) rather than power to beat the Trojans' front?

(Read full post)

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- There's still an "OR" to the right of Joe McKnight's name on the USC depth chart, but it's mostly a wink at the Trojans' old way of doing things at running back.

McKnight is the Trojans' starting running back. His 14 carries against San Jose State were twice as many as any other Trojans running back, and it will be a surprise if he doesn't start at Ohio State on Saturday.
 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
 Joe McKnight's workload against the Spartans indicates he's the Trojans' starting running back.
Allen Bradford might offer a power option off the bench. And Stafon Johnson might be the man near the goal line.

But McKnight is clearly 1A, whether coach Pete Carroll, who has long defended his backfield-by-committee approach, is explicit about it or not.

"We came out of camp with the thought that we wanted to really work Joe and see if we couldn't keep him in the game and get him more used to playing on a more regular basis and not spot play him so much and see if that wouldn't position him to make some more big plays," Carroll said after the Trojans 56-3 victory over the Spartans.

Carroll was even more vague during his Tuesday press conference when asked about the rotation.

"I don't know what that rotation was [against San Jose State] -- it was everybody played," Carroll said. "But we're going in with the same idea as we had last week. Joe, and you'll see a lot of guys play."

However the "rotation" is described, it worked against the Spartans. McKnight had 145 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown jaunt, and the Trojans finished with 354 yards rushing.

That long touchdown run was even punctuated by a flip into the endzone, which looked a lot like the guy McKnight grew up admiring: Reggie Bush.

McKnight told reporters he was really trippin' on that run.

When McKnight saw a terminally unhip media giving him knowing nods, he expanded.

"I was tripping ... I was falling," he clarified. "I didn't want to fall on the 1-yard line."

McKnight played the first two series before yielding to Bradford, but it's more likely McKnight went to the sidelines because he fumbled, an issue that has sprung up a few times during his career.

McKnight, however, returned for the next two possessions.

McKnight said knowing he'll get a handful of carries in sequence -- instead of a few touches here and there -- helps him fit into the flow of the game.

"It's always good to get into a rhythm in the game," he said. "You always want to get that home run hit, but you've got to be focused and get five yards here, five yards there. It will open up for you."

If there's a reason for the philosophy shift, which is subtle but clear, it's due to new playcaller Jeremy Bates, who intimated during the preseason that he wasn't a fan of not establishing a clear pecking order at the position.

Johnson finished with six rushes for 27 yards with two touchdowns. Bradford had four carries for 53 yards, most of which came on a 43-yard scoring run. Marc Tyler and C.J. Gable took over the position when the result was out of hand, combining for 109 yards on 12 carries.

Gable was the official starter in 12 games last year, so his status has slipped the most. Johnson led the Trojans with 138 carries for 728 yards in 2008.

Whoever runs the ball, he will benefit from an offensive line that doesn't miss many assignments and has a lot of experience with zone blocking. USC running backs were stopped for a loss only once -- Gable for minus-3 yards late in the game.

That said, the Ohio State defensive line is experienced and talented. It welcomes back seven of its top eight players from last season, and the unit has combined for 78 career starts.

McKnight will get first crack. But, if he's not effective, there still will be other appealing options.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Ohio State is the team that can't win big games any more.

The Buckeyes are the team carrying the banner for a battered Big Ten Conference.

The Buckeyes are trying to rebound from three consecutive BCS bowl losses and a 35-3 setback against USC last September.

The Buckeyes have the more experienced quarterback (sophomore Terrelle Pryor) than USC (freshman Matt Barkley).

And the Buckeyes are playing at home, where their fans demand excellence.

So who has more pressure heading into Saturday's clash between No. 8 Ohio State and No. 3 USC in Columbus (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET)? Not the Buckeyes.

"As a human being, you never like anything bad being talked about you," Ohio State cornerback Chimdi Chekwa said Wednesday. "But we try not to focus on that stuff. We hear it, but there’s really no pressure on us.

"People don’t expect us to do well in these big games."

Ohio State finds itself as a home underdog Saturday night, an unfamiliar position for a team that is 39-4 at Ohio Stadium since 2003. You would think the sense of urgency for the Buckeyes would reach a fever pitch.

Instead, the lower expectations outside Columbus could work in Ohio State's favor Saturday.

"Recently, we've been expected not to do well in big games," Chekwa said. "I don’t know how other guys feel, but if somebody doesn’t expect you to win or a lot of people are doubting you, you go out there with nothing to lose."

Posted by's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- He's 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. He runs a 4.3 40-yard dash. And he's got a cannon for an arm.

Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is a special athlete playing in a special game, and it's hard not to recall that the last time that combination came together opposite USC, the Trojans saw Vince Young break their hearts and end their bid for a third consecutive national championship.
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio
Terrelle Pryor can beat defenses with his arm or his legs.

That's why, as much as anything, USC's visit to Ohio State on Saturday likely comes down to how the Trojans rebuilt defense contends with Pryor, who is 10-1 as the Buckeyes starter and was preseason Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year.

"This is a very, very unusual athlete to be this tall and this fast and have a great arm," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "I think you'll see he's not just a runner. He's working hard to be an all-around quarterback. He's showing that."

Pryor completed 14 of 21 passes for 174 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the Buckeyes season-opening win over Navy. He also ran for 30 yards on six carries with a touchdown.

Last year, Pryor transformed from the nation's consensus top recruit to the Buckeyes' starter, much like Matt Barkley is doing this fall for USC.

In last year's game in the Coliseum, Pryor alternated with senior Todd Boeckman, rushing for 40 yards and completing 7 of 9 passes. He became the full-time starter thereafter.

"He's still not a wily veteran by any means," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said. "He understands the game much, much better. I think he knows more of why he's doing what he's doing and why we're doing what we're doing and why the defense does what they do and all of those things."

While observers from both sides call Pryor a complete quarterback -- not just an athlete taking the snap -- the aspects of his game that are hardest to contend with are his speed and improvisational ability.

"I've always said that the most difficult aspect of defending an opponent is when they have a quarterback that can run and run on plays that aren't designed to be quarterback running plays," Carroll said. "When a pass starts and it breaks down and it takes off, it becomes a sweep or a draw or a scramble situation. It's just so out of the normal structure, that, you know, anything can happen. So that's an X factor that a running quarterback presents."

The theme for the USC defense: Tackle, tackle, tackle.

And with prejudice.

"You've really got to key on your up-field shoulder and rely on your technique with a running quarterback like that," end Everson Griffen said. "We've got to swarm as a team and hit him hard every time he runs. Hit him hard -- make it harder for him, not as fun."

Griffen said the defense expects to see more speed option and designed runs with Pryor. Because the Buckeyes are playing in the friendly confines of Ohio Stadium -- "The Horseshoe" -- it will be easy for Pryor to check in and out of plays at the line of scrimmage if he thinks he sees a vulnerability in the Trojans' defense.

So it will be a chess match.

The Trojans might assign a spy for Pryor. It certainly will try to limit his running lanes. But the likelihood is Pryor will make plays with his feet. It's a matter of limiting them, which the Trojans failed to do with Young.

"A really good runner like Terrelle Pryor can go where he wants to go," Carroll said. "You can say you're going to keep him in the pocket and then he just scoots up and gets out again. He's really got a knack for escaping. You can holler at guys for not containing, but he just dips and goes. He's really good at it and he's really fast. The thing you hope you do is when you get your chances you tackle him because he breaks a lot of tackles. Guys drip off him a lot. He doesn't run over you, he just runs. He's fast and really strong and really big and he's difficult to get down. When he wants to go, he goes."

And there's always the issue of overcompensating. If Pryor breaks contain and two or three Trojans shirk their responsibilities in pursuit, then Pryor might be able to make a play downfield.

"You play the offense -- you don't want to look at it as playing Terrell Pryor," linebacker Chris Galippo said. "You want to look at it as playing the Ohio State offense."

That said, Young accounted for 467 of Texas' 556 total yards in the Longhorns' nail-biting victory in the BCS title game.

So there's no other way to say it: USC's defense has a Pryor engagement on Saturday.

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

Terrelle Pryor's right arm and legs will go a long way toward determining Ohio State's success or failure against USC on Saturday (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET), but the space under the quarterback's left eye continues to draw more attention.

Pryor displayed his support for Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick by wearing "Vick" on one of his eyeblack stickers during the season opener against Navy. The sophomore explained later that he has always looked up to Vick and looks past Vick's shortcomings off the field.

"Not everybody is the perfect person in the world," Pryor said of Vick. "Everyone does -- kills people, murders people, steals from you, steals from me. I just feel that people need to give him a chance."

The tribute and Pryor's comments have drawn some mixed reviews. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel, who said he wasn't aware of the Vick sticker until told about it after the game, doesn't have a strict policy on eyeblack displays.

"It's a little bit tough in this country to have too much of a policy on personal expression, but it's unfortunate when that distracts from situations that were so extraordinary as the weekend we had," Tressel said Tuesday at his weekly news conference. "And I guess you'd have to know Terrelle like I know Terrelle. There's probably not a more compassionate human being in the world than Terrelle."

Tressel recalled how Pryor sent him a text message Monday night saying the team needed to provide a boost for junior wide receiver Taurian Washington, who dropped two passes against Navy. Pryor also sent Tressel a text after Ohio State's loss to LSU in the BCS title game, which read, "Don't worry about it, Coach. We're going to get it done in the future."

Though Pryor's tribute to Vick caused a stir, Tressel is confident the quarterback didn't intend to cause any harm.

"He's one of those guys that he feels terrible about anything that's not just right," Tressel said. "And I know he doesn't feel good that [the tribute] disappointed someone. And his intention would never be to make anyone disappointed about something.

"We all sometimes miss the mark, but as I say, teachable, learnable moment."

A few other notes from Buckeye land:
  • Tressel said wide receiver/punt returner Ray Small looked better after a nasty bout with illness kept him off the field against Navy. An update on Small's status for the USC game will be provided Thursday. Wide receiver DeVier Posey is expected to return to practice in the next day or two after missing the second half of the Navy game with an ankle injury.
  • USC safety Taylor Mays last month referred to Pryor as "the little deuce" and himself as "the big deuce." Both players wear No. 2. Tressel's response? "They're both big deuces if you ask me, man."
  • Tressel called USC's return men "frightening."

Posted by's Adam Rittenberg

By any objective measure, Ohio Stadium remains one of college football's least hospitable venues for visiting teams.

Ohio State is 39-4 on its home field since 2003, the fourth best winning percentage in the country and easily the best in the Big Ten. Buckeyes head coach Jim Tressel owns a 24-1 record against nonconference games at home. More than 105,000 fans routinely flock to the banks of the Olentangy River, providing Ohio State one of the best home-field advantages in all of college sports.
Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE
Jim Tressel's Buckeyes need to figure out their big game woes before USC comes to town.

But as No. 3 USC prepares to visit Columbus on Saturday night (ESPN, 8 p.m.), The Shoe could use a little polish. So could Ohio State's performance in big nonconference games.

Ohio State has stumbled at home in three of the last four years, and three of its four home losses since 2003 have come against top 15 opponents (Wisconsin, Texas, Penn State). Beginning with the 2006 BCS title game, Ohio State has dropped five consecutive games against top 5 teams, including three by 14 points or more.

"We talked about it to a certain extent," senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington said. "We lost a couple big bowl games and the game against [USC] last year, so it’s in our minds about these huge games.

"But it's a new year."

A new year has been the rallying cry for both Ohio State and the Big Ten, which needs to repair a damaged national reputation. Since Penn State might not play a ranked team until November, Ohio State's performance against USC will shape Big Ten perception for much of the fall.

While pundits belabor the Buckeyes' big-game struggles, head coach Jim Tressel isn't planning to bring up the subject this week because, quite frankly, most of his players can't relate.

"We’ve got so many guys who haven’t played in those games," Tressel said. "That’s not a vantage point that resonates with them. We focus primarily on, ‘Here’s who we are and here’s the things that we have to do within the confines of our offense and defense and special teams and so forth. If we can do those successfully, we’ll have a chance to be victorious.'

"Sometimes, if you start talking about history, those that can’t feel it, I’m not sure you’re gaining much with that.”

The Big Ten's recent history against USC can be felt from State College to Champaign. And it doesn't feel good.

USC owns a nine-game win streak against the Big Ten, stretching back to 1996. Eight of those losses have come by 14 points or more, including each of the last seven.

The good news for Ohio State is the league's last eight losses to USC took place on the road or at neutral sites. USC hasn't won on Big Ten soil since crushing Illinois 55-3 in 1996. Then again, the Trojans aren't afraid of the road.

Could 105,000 plus decked out in scarlet change USC's road fortunes?

"The fans are going to be there; they’re going to be loud and [they'll] be behind us," Ohio State running back Dan Herron said. "But this game is going to be extremely crazy. People want to see us beat USC and we’re going to do all we can.”

Tressel expects an electric atmosphere Saturday night, but he knows Ohio State's 12th man can only be a factor if the 11 on the field are doing their jobs.

"If we start counting on the crowd to make a difference for us, we’re looking at the wrong things," he said. "What’s going to be most important is how well we block and tackle and throw and catch and defend. But there’s something special about playing at home. There’s something special about playing on the national stage. Every one of us is excited to do that."

Video: Big Ten preview

September, 8, 2009

Kirk Herbstreit previews Notre Dame-Michigan and USC-Ohio State.

Posted by's Ted Miller

Maybe USC has trouble in the "O" states?

Hey, it's a reach to note that the mighty Trojans colossus has lost three in a row in the state of Oregon and apply it to this weekend's marquee tilt at Ohio State, but at least it's a chink in the armor for a program that hasn't lost a nonconference road game since early 2002, Pete Carroll's second season at Troy.
Charles Baus/Icon SMI
USC coach Pete Carroll’s Trojans aren’t afraid to take it on the road.

While Ohio State fans believe 105,000 united crazies inside the Horseshoe shouting down the Trojans and their true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley might make a difference, USC has carefully cultivated a culture that embraces taking its show on the road.

When USC walks into the room, every one knows it. Folks can't help but stare. And the Trojans love being looked at.

"I love it -- the noise, everybody going against you and you get the chance to quiet them down," running back Joe McKnight said. "It's fun. Any time we go somewhere, people want to see what USC is about. They want to prove to the world that USC can be beat."

USC has won its last three at Notre Dame, including the infamous "Bush push" in 2005. Auburn was thinking national championship in 2003 before the Trojans manhandled them 23-zip, with Matt Leinart making his first career start. Arkansas talked endlessly about taking vengeance for a 70-17 beatdown in 2005 only to leave their fans gaping in a 50-14 throttling the following season in John David Booty's debut. Nebraska, Virginia, Colorado, BYU and Virginia Tech also have been conquered by Trojan visitors.

That success might explain why USC doesn't get invited to party any more in certain areas of the country.

"I think there is a culture you can cultivate -- there's a whole mindset," Carroll said of playing on the road. "It doesn't just start with the day you're on game week [before going] on the road.It's something you built over a long period of time. It's your attitude and how you handle all games, not just road games."

Still, the long airplane ride, the foreign environment -- hotels, field, locker room, etc. -- all break a routine. Moreover, even if hostile faces don't make a team queasy, the noise is inconvenient no matter what, particularly for a visiting offense.

And deafening noise will be new for Barkley. No matter how cool he is, he's never experienced what he will experience on Saturday. This will be the first time he will play a game without being able to hear or be heard much of the time.

"That will be the first time he'll ever hear [noise] of that magnitude," Carroll admitted.

Nonetheless, Barkley only offers a pleasant shrug. Will it be loud? Sure. He'll adjust.

"I don't think that will make a difference," Barkley said after his cool-as-a-cucumber debut against San Jose State. "We'll do what we do best -- focus on ourselves throughout the week, focus on how we can better. You have to learn to push that stuff out. The atmosphere is probably going to be nuts. I probably don't even know how crazy it's gong to be. That won't faze me."

USC will practice with extra noise all week. It will work on various nonverbal signals to share audibles and information. While the Trojans defense is young, Barkley will be surrounded by veteran players on offense.

If any Trojan is worried about the notorious atmosphere in the Horseshoe for a night game, he isn't letting on.

"It's just noise," safety Taylor Mays said. "I like it. I like hearing it and then hearing it get quiet."