Price, Barkley looking for their 2011 selves

If voting for first-team All-Pac-12 quarterback were held today, neither USC's Matt Barkley nor Keith Price would win.

And if your crystal ball had related that to you in August, you would have taken your crystal ball back to Target and asked for a refund.

Barkley was the leading Heisman Trophy candidate entering the season. Price was a darkhorse contender. They were, without question, the two top returning quarterbacks in the conference. And, perhaps, in the nation.

Last year, Barkley ranked No. 2 in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency behind Andrew Luck. He ranked seventh in the nation in passing efficiency and led the conference with 39 touchdown passes. At present, the four-year starter is 27th in the nation in passing efficiency and ranks behind Arizona State sophomore Taylor Kelly and Oregon redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, a pair of first-year starters, in the conference.

In 2011, Price, as a first-year starter, ranked third in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency and eighth in the nation. He threw 33 touchdown passes. At present, he's 12th in the conference in passing efficiency and doesn't rank nationally because his rating is not among the top-100 QBs. The Huskies, in fact, are last in passing in the conference, with just 184 yards per game, down 51 yards from last fall.

Barkley seemed to find his rhythm last week during a win against Utah. Price has yet to rediscover his groove. The pair will square off Saturday when the Trojans take on the Huskies at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.

"Keith is still a fantastic football player," Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. "I think at times, yeah, maybe he has pressed a little bit, and maybe he's gotten frustrated."

There are plenty of valid excuses for Price, who's thrown five touchdown passes with four interceptions so far. The Huskies are missing their top-two receivers and top-two rushers from 2011. They are down three starting offensive linemen. And a No. 2 receiver hasn't emerged behind Kasen Williams after James Johnson was lost to injury.

Still, Price hasn't been himself. A player nicknamed "Teeth" because of his tendency to smile a lot, even during high-pressure moments, has looked stressed-out and frustrated on the field. Moreover, after games, he's seemed distraught while taking the blame upon himself for the offensive struggles.

"He needs to play football," Sarkisian said. "Right now he's working football."

If anyone knows about the burden of high expectations, it's the Trojans.

"If you don't win every game by 50 points, all the sudden everybody is saying, 'What's wrong with you?'" coach Lane Kiffin said.

They were pretty much written off after the loss to Stanford -- Barkley as a Heisman candidate and the Trojans as national title contenders. Yet there is plenty of season left. For both teams.

The Huskies' schedule, which has included four top-10 teams in the first six games, eases up over the season's second half. In August, a 4-2 start, which a win would give them, would have been embraced by just about anyone on Montlake. An upset of the Trojans would leave them well-positioned in the conference pecking order. And, keep in mind, the Huskies did beat the team (Stanford) that beat the team (USC).

For USC, Barkley could still play his way into the Heisman conversation, and the Trojans are still lurking in the national picture. An impressive win likely would push them back into the top-10, and we know anything can happen in college football.

But the first step for both teams is getting their quarterback play consistently back to where it was expected to be in the preseason.