Deep thinking on USC-Stanford, the QBs

Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck and USC quarterback Matt Barkley square off on Saturday. ESPN Stats & Information takes a look at the two quarterbacks from a numbers standpoint.

But this matchup is about more than the quarterbacks. Here's a key: First down. Stanford dominates on first down, which makes everything else easy. And the USC defense hasn't been great on first down, which makes things more difficult.

Last week, Stanford ran for a school-record 446 yards, including 248 yards on 24 first down carries. The Cardinal had three rushes of 20-or-more yards and averaged a season-high 10.4 yards per play on first down in the game. Overall this season, Stanford is averaging 8.0 yards per play on first down, tied for the third-highest mark in FBS.

The Trojans will need to improve their first-down defense, which is tied for 94th in FBS, if they want to keep this game competitive. USC allowed 7.4 yards per play on first down last week against Notre Dame, and has allowed a play of 10-plus yards on nearly 25 percent of their first down plays this year.

But, let's get back to Luck and Barkley. While USC coach Lane Kiffin has called Luck "perfect" multiple times this week, Trojans cornerback Nickell Robey isn't so sure he's any better than Barkley.

"I look at Barkley every day in practice like I'm looking at Luck, because they have almost have the same style of play," Robey said. "They're smart, they make the right decisions.

"They're not that different to me. They're not too different."

Well, OK. In this video, ESPN NFL draft experts Todd McShay and Mel Kiper consider how Barkley might improve his stock among fans as well as NFL GMs.

So, how does USC stop Luck and Stanford? Well, this video provides some insights into the Trojans' thinking.

How does Scouts Inc., see this one stacking up? Here's some in-depth analysis with key matchups and a prediction.

Finally, ESPN analyst Brock Huard thinks Stanford not only is a legit national title contender, he believes it would provide the best matchup versus the SEC champion -- and would have last year as well.