Breaking down the Emerald Bowl between No. 24 USC (8-4) and Boston College (8-4).
WHO TO WATCH: USC quarterback Matt Barkley transformed from being the toast of college football after he led a game-winning drive in the waning moments at Ohio State on Sept. 12 to a guy who looked like an overmatched true freshman quarterback. The Trojans' offense sputtered down the stretch, and Barkley ended seventh in the Pac-10 in passing efficiency, with his 12 interceptions almost keeping pace with his 13 touchdowns. If Barkley reclaims his steady, heady self from the first half of the season, which means getting the ball into the hands of his playmakers and avoiding risky throws, the Trojans' offense should have no problem matching the smooth-running unit that scored 106 points against California, Notre Dame and Oregon State.
WHAT TO WATCH: USC in general. The conventional wisdom is the Trojans will come out flat and uninspired because: 1. the Emerald Bowl is beneath a team that's played in seven consecutive BCS bowls; 2. the program has been in the news a lot of late for all the wrong reasons, and that will dilute motivation. Perhaps. Or it might do the opposite. It might make them mad and focused -- us against the world! unite! -- and they might then play up to their capabilities. Or at least with some passion. Know that BC will show up hungry and unintimidated. Even without its A-game, which we haven't seen since the first three quarters of the win at Notre Dame, USC might prevail because it's got better players, but a lackluster effort could lead to another embarrassing defeat.
WHY TO WATCH: Because everyone is trying to figure out what's up with USC. If the Trojans roll and post an impressive win, it would suggest the program is righting itself and will be back in the Pac-10 and national mix next fall. If they look sloppy and uninspired, folks will start to wonder if the dynasty is truly dead. And keep in mind: While USC has lost four times in the Pac-10 this season, no team outside the conference has beaten USC since the 2005 national championship game.
PREDICTION: USC 30-17. The guess here is that USC has too much pride to play without fire. The absence of three starters and a reserve due to academics and NCAA issues will hurt, but that might be offset by a team that was beaten up getting three weeks to rest and heal, mentally as well as physically. BC will fight hard and keep things close early, but the Trojans' talent -- and motivation -- will eventually prevail.