Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 11/27/11
LOS ANGELES There is no doubt just so you know who the best team in college football is this season. Take a bow, LSU. But if there's another team out there that looks like a scary proposition right now, it is the team that is making NCAA purgatory look like a slap on the wrist. Meet the USC Trojans who, as the regular season draws to a close, are The Team Nobody Wants To Play. Of course nobody has to since the Trojans, as a result of the Reggie Bush sanctions, are banned from a bowl for the second straight season. But the Trojans, ranked 10th, closed their season with a flourish, following up last week's win at Oregon with a 50-0 demolition Saturday night of rival UCLA. "The way we're playing right now, yeah, I think so," Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley said after being asked if the Trojans might be the only team that could beat LSU. "The way we've progressed, the way our guys are feeling that mojo, meshing with each other, the chemistry it's something special." If USC bloodied the Bruins' noses, they also blackened the Pac-12's eye. Because the Trojans are ineligible for a bowl game, they are also ineligible to represent the South Division against North Division champion Oregon in the inaugural Pac-12 Championship Game. (Though it didn't stop the Trojans from wearing South Division Champions t-shirts.) Next in line is UCLA, which now has a chance to play for the Rose Bowl despite a 6-6 record and five losses by at least 25 points. The Bruins came out wearing all-white uniforms and helmets developed by their shoe company sponsor. The Bruins supplied the matching white flag. If you want to see Rose Bowl officials get red in the face, ask them how they'd feel if the Bruins upset Oregon on Friday night. They'll be the same as UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero, who is expected to fire Rick Neuheisel after the Bruins last game although it might be a little uncomfortable doing so if his coach manages to win the Rose Bowl. There is no such discomfort these days for USC, whose only loss in the last two months has been a triple-overtime thriller to Stanford. The Trojans (10-2) snapped Oregon's 21-game home winning streak last week, building a 24-point lead over the then-No. 4 Ducks and hanging on after a series of blunders for a 38-35 victory. The Trojans seem to have it all an elite quarterback in Barkley, a pair of future NFL receivers in Marquis Lee and Robert Woods, and a retooled defense that now is equipped with enough speed to run with spread offenses. The only thing the Trojans don't have is another opponent, something that served as motivation on Saturday. "I think we left all our frustration out on the field," said left tackle Matt Kalil. "The score shows it. Everything else is out of our control but any top contender, I think we can stay close or win. I think we can compete with any team in the nation." The question for the Trojans is how good are they going to be next season? They start six freshmen including Lee and their trio of linebackers and four sophomores, and could return as many as 19 starters. Whether they begin 2012 as a top 10 team or as perhaps (italics) the (unitalics) top team may depend on whether Barkley returns for his senior season. Barkley acknowledged that it will not be an easy decision. He would likely be a chosen by the middle of the first round of the NFL draft, but if he returns, following the path taken by Andrew Luck, there would be the lure of being a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and a contender for a national championship. "I have no idea what I'm going to do next year," said Barkley, who cast himself into Heisman Trophy consideration by completing 35 of 42 passes for 423 yards and six touchdowns. He also broke Matt Leinart's single-season record with 39 touchdown passes. "Tonight is too special to worry about that. We deserve to celebrate a little bit." USC fans expressed their feelings midway through the third quarter when Barkley led the offense onto the field. Chants of "One More Year" rolled through the sold-out Coliseum. USC coach Lane Kiffin said that might be wishful thinking. "I'm probably not supposed to say this, but unless he just wants to do it to be a special Trojan, he ain't coming back," Kiffin said. "Who's playing better than that in the country if you're an NFL team? He's going in the top five." Barkley may not be the only one. Kalil, a junior whose brother Ryan is the Panthers starting center, is considered by many analysts as the best at his position. Defensive end Nick Perry and safety T.J. McDonald are also mulling whether to return for their senior seasons. While the Trojans two-year bowl ban is over, the scholarship restrictions will now hit. USC will be limited to 15 scholarships each of the next three years, 10 below the NCAA limit. But the dark clouds that Kiffin said the program was under earlier this season seem to be lifting. "Remember, we've sat on couches for the last two years with people reading our sanctions and saying they're not going to bowl games, you've got nothing to play for if you go there," Kiffin said. "The Marquis Lees and Robert, all these kids kept coming. Now we get to go in houses and sit on the couch without those negatives." On Saturday night, with the Coliseum rocking and the Trojans rolling, that all seemed so long ago.
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