Tonight's USC vs. Utah matchup in Week 6 will be a big game for the Trojans, but an even bigger one for USC's quarterback Matt Barkley.
Have you even heard about the Trojans lately?
During the offseason, that was really the only team we heard about. Forget about Alabama who just won a national championship; it was all about the Trojans, baby!
After an upsetting loss to Stanford, a lot of that talk has quieted down, particularly when it comes to the Trojans' signal-caller. The guy who put the NFL on hold for his senior season has been a big disappointment, and many college football fans have moved on to the next popular player.
With a week off to gather themselves, here is why the USC Trojans and Matt Barkley will be under a microscope in tonight's ESPN showdown versus Utah.
Get Back In the Heisman Running
I'm not sure if you have heard, but there is some guy named Geno Smith who is tearing up the college football season. He leads the West Virginia offense by putting up video game numbers and leading his team to an undefeated record. The senior is completing 83 percent of his passes, has thrown for over 1,700 yards with 20 touchdowns.
And, he has yet to throw an interception.
Before the season started, Barkley was considered the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, while everybody else really didn't even matter. If the season was to end today, according to ESPN, the USC quarterback wouldn't even receive an invite to New York. (He's now considered 11th among candidates.)
There are, of course, bigger games on the Trojans schedule than taking a trip to Salt Lake City, but a national televised game will give Barkley a chance to win back some of those voters. Put up sexy numbers, complete a high percentage of passes, lead your team to a big victory and get back in the running for the award that was his to lose to begin with.
Win the Game and Climb Back in the Top 10
Utah was considered by many to be that surprise team in the Pac-12 this season, but the Utes have struggled to get off to a great start. The quarterback situation went down the drain when Jordan Wynn called it quits. The running game is almost nonexistent, and John White, a 1,500-yard rusher last year, now averages less than four yards a carry and has only scored one touchdown.
And while the defense remains one of the best in the conference, the Trojans should still win this game fairly easily, especially because they had extra time to prepare. But this game really isn't about tonight; it is about Week 6 and all of the marquee matchups that will take place on Saturday. With many ranked teams above the Trojans playing other quality opponents, a win here would certainly move this team back into the Top 10.
Of course, USC has to win the game, which takes us back to Matt Barkley. Step up and play the way everybody knows you are capable of playing. With the Trojans currently sitting at No. 13 in the AP Poll, a climb back into the national championship conversation could really start tonight.
Impress Those NFL Scouts
What is going on with Matt Barkley is similar to what happened last season with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. Many knew Luck was the best quarterback in all of college football, but with Griffin playing out of his mind, many critics began doubting Luck as a lock for the No. 1 pick.
Well, with the way Geno Smith is playing in the first month of the season, Bleacher Reports' Matt Miller even has the West Virginia quarterback above the Trojan in his position rankings.
This USC offense has yet to click the way many thought it would, as it is currently ranked sixth in the Pac-12. Barkley is only completing 61 percent of his passes, has thrown five interceptions in four games, and he was absolutely brutal in the upset loss to Stanford.
There were knocks about his arm strength and the lack of competition he faces in the Pac-12, but now, many say he isn't even the best quarterback in college football.
Tonight, the senior will have a chance to quiet some of those naysayers.
Note: All stats come from cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted.