Matt Barkley had no idea Southern California had planned something special for his record-breaking 100th touchdown pass.
After connecting with Robert Woods for the school-record TD during the No. 10 Trojans' blowout of Colorado, Barkley watched the massive Coliseum scoreboard with an even bigger smile as Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Pete Carroll, Blake Griffin, Landon Donovan and more Los Angeles sports luminaries offered taped congratulations.
"It's something I did dream of as a kid — not the records, but to be able to be here for four years and live those dreams out as a senior," Barkley said. "I never thought (the records) would happen, but I'm trying to soak it up."
Barkley came back for his senior season with the Trojans to make history, and he got another piece of it during a win that moved USC (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12) back into the top 10 after starting the season at No. 1. USC routed Colorado 50-6 for its fourth straight win, blasting the hapless Buffaloes on both sides of the ball.
Barkley kept the ball from the TD pass that moved him past Leinart in USC and conference annals, but he's confident the Trojans are heading toward bigger achievements in January. To play in the national championship game or the Rose Bowl, the Trojans likely would need a perfect finish in the toughest part of their schedule, beginning Saturday at high-scoring Arizona (4-3, 1-3).
It's a tall order, but Barkley would be in the NFL right now if he didn't think USC had the team to do it.
"I think we have a much better feeling in our stomachs after this win, especially on the offensive side," said Barkley, who finished one dropped pass shy of a 20-for-20 performance while setting conference records for completion percentage and efficiency. "The points we put on the board and the way we moved the ball ... that's something we can build on for the future."
Barkley also remembers last season, when the Trojans turned a slow start into an outstanding 10-2 finish in the second year of their NCAA bowl ban. In their fourth and fifth games of 2011, the Trojans gave up 40 points in back-to-back contests for the first time in school history, losing to Arizona State and barely holding on for a 48-41 win over Arizona.
But something clicked in that win over the Wildcats, and the Trojans improved steadily through their final seven games. USC lost only in triple overtime to Andrew Luck and Stanford, and the Trojans headed into their early winter with a road win over Oregon — the eventual Rose Bowl and Pac-12 champions — and a 50-0 humiliation of UCLA.
"The seasons have been pretty similar," USC coach Lane Kiffin said. "Like I've tried to say all along, you have to take the whole year for evaluation. You have to wait for the whole thing to come together. Sometimes you're on the road a lot, or playing better defenses."
Kiffin abandoned his recent caution with the passing game against Colorado, allowing Barkley to throw downfield at Woods and Marqise Lee while tailbacks Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal got just six combined carries. USC also ran a no-huddle offense for most of Barkley's snaps, trying out another uncharacteristic tactic in preparation for the big tests to come.
Barkley and his offense handled the hurry-up schemes with few mistakes, and even the loss of starting left tackle Aundrey Williams didn't slow them down. Williams, who left the field on a cart with an undisclosed injury, had been splitting playing time with freshman Max Tuerk.
"It's something that we practice throughout the year, and were waiting for the right time (to use it)," Kiffin said of the no-huddle. "We didn't take it lightly. The emphasis was to come out firing. It kept our three receivers on the field and playing a lot of time."
The Trojans spent four of their first six games on the road, and Saturday's trip to Tucson is the final time they'll leave Los Angeles. Although the travel schedule is easier, their opponents in November are much tougher: Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame.
With back-to-back games on tap against the Wildcats and Ducks, the Trojans will have to play fast. But now that they're rolling, Barkley thinks they might pick up speed.
"That rhythm and faster pace worked for us," Barkley said. "Regardless of whether or not we do it next week, it set a good base for us."