Two top quarterbacks prepare to face off at Coliseum

USC climbed back into the top 25 and attracted national attention after an impressive victory last week against Notre Dame. An upset of No. 4 Stanford on Saturday would truly make the Trojans relevant again. Staff writer Gary Klein examines the game’s issues and matchups:

Star power

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck is a Heisman Trophy front-runner and the presumed No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL draft.

USC’s Matt Barkley is regarded as a first-round pick if he leaves after this season, but a dynamic winning performance by the junior in a side-by-side matchup with Luck could boost his stock.


Luck has passed for 20 touchdowns with three interceptions. He has license to call plays at the line of scrimmage and, as USC found out two years ago, can hurt defenses as much running as passing.

Luck faces a USC defense that has gone turnover crazy in the last two games, intercepting four passes and recovering four fumbles.

Barkley has passed for 19 touchdowns with four interceptions. He bounced back from an uneven performance against California with an efficient, well-played game against Notre Dame.

Barkley’s performance probably will be affected significantly by receiver Robert Woods’ status. The sophomore was limited in practice most of the week because of soreness but is expected to be at full speed against the Cardinal.

Grind it out

With Luck leading the way, it’s easy to forget that Stanford relies heavily on a power running game.

Stepfan Taylor has averaged nearly 100 yards rushing, but Tyler Gaffney and Anthony Wilkerson also have been productive.

The Cardinal sometimes deploys seven or eight offensive linemen to pave the way and is not averse to using tight ends Zach Ertz, Coby Fleener and Levine Toilolo at the same time.

USC tailbacks Marc Tyler and Curtis McNeal ran well against Notre Dame as the USC offensive line played its best game of the season.

Local danger

USC would be wise to keep an eye on Chris Owusu, who leads the Cardinal with 30 receptions.

Owusu, a former Westlake Village Oaks Christian High standout, could follow in the footsteps of Mark Bradford and Richard Sherman, Cardinal receivers from the Southland who made huge plays in Stanford’s victories at the Coliseum in 2007 and 2009.

Bradford, a former Fremont High star, caught a last-minute touchdown from Tavita Pritchard in 2007 to complete a 24-23 victory over the Trojans, who were 41-point favorites.

Sherman, from Compton Dominguez, set up the winner with a 20-yard reception on a fourth-and-20 play. Two years later, Sherman had switched to cornerback. He intercepted a pass by Barkley and returned it for a touchdown in Stanford’s 55-21 rout.

Bradford, 27, is living in Los Angeles and studying for the Graduate Management Admission Test.

He was on the sideline as a spectator in 2009 and plans to be there again Saturday. Asked if he would revisit the end zone where he caught the pass, Bradford laughed and said, “I don’t think they’ll let me over there.”

Pete Carroll, who left USC to become coach of the Seattle Seahawks, apparently thought it might be good to have Sherman playing for him instead of against him. The Seahawks selected Sherman in the fifth round of the 2011 draft.

No help here

Last week, Stanford trounced then-No. 22 Washington, 65-21, rolling up a school-record 446 yards rushing.

In preparing for the Cardinal, USC Coach Lane Kiffin acknowledged speaking with Washington Coach Steve Sarkisian, a friend and former Trojans assistant.

“He told us what not to do,” Kiffin said. “He said, ‘Whatever we did, don’t do it on defense.’ ”

Seeing red

USC’s defense hopes to be the first to stop Stanford inside the 20-yard-line.

The Cardinal has converted all 38 of its red-zone opportunities, scoring 30 touchdowns and eight field goals. Not surprisingly, Stanford leads the nation in red-zone offense.

USC’s opponents have scored 19 times in 22 red-zone chances.

The Trojans offense is 23 for 31 in the red zone, ranking 102nd nationally. The Cardinal, which has given up points only 11 times in 18 situations, is second in red-zone defense,

Fill it up

The game is expected to be close to a sellout, which could make it the largest crowd at the Coliseum since USC played Stanford in 2009.

That game drew 90,071, though the stadium seemed nearly empty by the time the Cardinal put the finishing touches on a 34-point victory.

Quick hits

USC is 59-27-3 against Stanford in a series that dates to 1905. … ESPN’s “College GameDay” is broadcasting from the Coliseum for the seventh time. The Trojans are 6-1 as the host school.