Wherein I profile some of USC's key players in the week leading up to Saturday's game. Check back for much more in the coming days, including a Q&A with SB Nation's USC blog, Conquest Chronicles. (You may notice that I don't highlight any defensive players. There's a good reason for that.)
What's Matt Barkley's deal?
A little less hype and a little less fat has translated into a more successful season for Barkley in his second year as the starter under center. Experience has probably contributed to his improvement, too. Barkley put up gaudy numbers in the Trojans' season-opening win at Hawaii and has three interception-free games, which matches the total number of games in which he didn't throw a pick all of last season. One of the worst performances of Barkley's 14-interception freshman campaign came against Stanford, when he was picked off three times in the Cardinal's 55-21 rout at the Coliseum. Barkley has forced fewer throws this year, and while he said was too focused on not throwing an interception on two failed third-down plays that cost USC late in Saturday's 32-31 loss to Washington, he ranks 14th in the nation in passing efficiency.
What's Allen Bradford's deal?
Bradford, who leads the nation in yards per carry (9.8), has been a big part of Barkley's strong start. The leading rusher on a team average more than 230 yards on the ground per game, the senior rushed for a career-high 223 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against the Huskies. Bradford has rushed for 438 yards on 40 carries in his last three games, which has his NFL stock rising. At 235 pounds, Bradford is more of a bruiser than a burner, and presents a different sort of challenge for Stanford's 84th-ranked rushing defense than LaMichael James did. Perhaps that's a good thing.
What's Ronald Johnson's deal?
RoJo, as Johnson is affectionately known by the people of Troy, is Barkley's go-to guy. The speedy senior leads the Trojans with 26 catches for 358 yards and 5 touchdowns. He's a big play threat every time he touches the ball, as evidenced by the four touchdowns (three receiving, one on a punt return) he scored against Hawaii. Johnson toyed with the idea of going pro after Pete Carroll left USC for the Seahawks, but ultimately decided to stay. (He did change his number to 83 from 8 to prepare for double-digit life in the NFL.)
What's Lane Kiffin's deal?
Where to start? I can't decide if USC's first-year head coach is more or less likable than his predecessor, but at least we know he won't take issue with Jim Harbaugh going for two.