Forget next year.
Plenty will be said about that in the coming days, weeks and months as fans and media members try to predict whether or not USC quarterback Matt Barkley will return for senior season and give the Trojans a serious shot at contending for a BCS bowl.
The thing is that we don't know for sure yet. Heck, he doesn't know for sure yet. Plus, we're still in 2011.
The focus now should be on the remaining three games USC has to play this season -- an interesting assortment that could cause the Trojans quite a bit of trouble. The first two opponents -- Washington and Oregon -- have each beaten USC the last two times the teams have faced. UCLA, the last opponent, hasn't been very tough of late but always presents a challenge as a rival.
Barkley has talked often about leaving school with a "bang" -- you know, finishing on a high note, creating a good way to remember three or four years of college football. Winning the next three games and finishing in the top 15 in the country would certainly qualify as a bang.
The win over Notre Dame was a bit of a bang. The near-win over Stanford would have been a big bang. The win over Colorado was solid, but nowhere near that caliber.
The question is whether it was enough of a stepping stone to lead the Trojans into a win over Washington in a week.
"I feel comfortable with how we're playing, with how our offense is moving the ball down the field and scoring points," Barkley said Friday after USC's comfortable 42-17 victory over the Buffaloes, which wasn't much of a game after the first quarter, as expected. "We still have three games left to determine how big of a bang it's going to be, but as of now, I love the way that we're progressing and continually not be satisfied with how we're playing and always wanting to do more."
Receiver Marqise Lee said the same thing. Asked if Friday's performance was an example of USC's offense at its best, he scoffed, as if to say, 'No way.'
The Trojans think they can do a lot better, and maybe they can. But the Stanford game remains, for USC, the team's best overall game under Lane Kiffin. That's the benchmark the team has set for the future, for the remaining three games in 2011 -- and beyond. really.
So don't just forget next year. Forget Colorado, too. That game's over and done with. Washington -- and Oregon and UCLA -- are the only things that matter now, maybe the last few chances the Trojans will have for offensive excellence with Barkley at the helm and maybe the last few chances they'll have to convince him to stay.
"We're in a good rhythm right now, as a team, and we just need to continue it," Barkley said. "Enjoy this win, but forget about it, because it's nothing. "We've got some tough ones coming up. It's not going to help us win against Washington. Put all of our focus into one game at a time.
"One win a week."
And three wins in all.