USC might have cost itself a national championship with a loss to Stanford last week. If the team has any chance to get back in the title hunt, it needs Matt Barkley to play much better.
Usually when an early-season favorite gets upset by a conference rival, there are a number of people to blame. Sometimes the defense struggles to hold a lead, and other times a kicker misses an important field goal.
In this case, however, the fault begins with the Heisman-contending quarterback who flopped when his team needed him the most.
Against Stanford, Barkley completed less than half of his passes and threw two interceptions without a touchdown. He looked nothing like the man who threw six touchdown passes against Syracuse the week before.
Therefore, he was unable to help his team pull out the win despite the defense holding the Cardinal to only 21 points on a relatively poor performance from opposing quarterback Josh Nunes.
Fortunately, Barkley will get a chance to redeem himself against a California defense that has struggled all season. The unit is currently 96th in the nation in points allowed, giving up an average of 32.3 points per game.
It is obvious the talent is there. Barkley was third in the country last season with 39 passing touchdowns. This was even more impressive considering he threw only seven interceptions all year. Combine this with incredible accuracy, and it is easy to understand why he is projected to be the first pick in next year's NFL draft, according to Mel Kiper.
Unfortunately, talent is not always enough. He needs to show his team that he can be a leader when needed.
The quarterback showed glimpses of this characteristic last season. He led the Trojans to a triple-overtime loss against Stanford when his team was overmatched, and he followed it up with four touchdowns in an upset on the road against Oregon.
However, fans were also able to see the bad side of Barkley when he threw two interceptions in a 43-22 loss to Arizona State. This level of inconsistency does not work in a sport where one loss can ruin the entire season.
All hope is not lost for USC this season. If the team can run the table and get a few key wins from other teams, there is a good chance the Trojans can end up in the national championship game, although the team must play near flawless football for the remainder of the year.
The upcoming game against California will be an important starting point. If Barkley can shake off the recent loss and have a good game, there will be reason to believe in this team again. There are plenty of weapons on offense to ensure that the unit does not struggle to score. Against Cal, they should break the 40-point barrier.
On the other hand, if USC loses or the team is barely able to squeak out a low-scoring victory, fans should ring the panic alarm as it will likely be another wasted season.