Matt Barkley began his weekly press conference on Tuesday by taking a question about the emotions surrounding his final rivalry game against the crosstown-rival Bruins.
Never again would he play UCLA in the Rose Bowl. Did that mean anything to him?
"Well, hopefully it’s not our last time playing in the Rose Bowl," Barkley quipped. "So it won’t be that special."
That was the USC senior quarterback's mentality throughout his media session on Tuesday. Turn almost everything asked about the UCLA rivalry into an answer about what a win would mean: a Pac-12 championship game appearance and a shot at the Rose Bowl.
"Yeah, there's probably more hype around this than normal," Barkley allowed. "And this game has a lot of meaning for both of these teams this year."
Barkley hasn't experienced a USC-UCLA game where both teams had this much on the line before. Last year, UCLA sneaked into the Pac-12 championship game despite that 50-0 loss, and the year before neither team was bowl-eligible by the time they played in December, with a still-injured Barkley returning from missing the Notre Dame game the previous week.
In 2009, 7-3 USC met 6-6 UCLA for the right to jostle for better small-time Pac-10 bowl bids. The most exciting thing that happened was the clearing of the sidelines near the end of USC's 28-7 win.
"Crazy ending, a hurt ankle, and a blowout," Barkley said. "That’s how I remember those three games. Hopefully it will be another great story this week."
UCLA, 8-2 and ranked No. 17 in the AP poll and No. 17 in the BCS standings, presents a significantly larger challenge than a season ago. The Trojans stomped on the Bruins in the blowout last November.
"They're a much improved team from last year, that's for sure," Barkley said. "So we're not even dwelling on that, on how we played last year versus them.
"They're an entirely different team, new coaching staff, new schemes, and it's going to be a great matchup."
Said USC coach Lane Kiffin: "This game is a big game no matter what, because it's USC-UCLA, regardless of what our records are. It's good that it's a relevant game for two years in a row. That's the way it should be."