72F MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
Matt Barkley and a star-studded Southern California offense are headed across the country to showcase their talents.
Barkley will celebrate his 22nd birthday Saturday as the second-ranked Trojans travel to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., to face a Syracuse team on a six-game losing streak.
Southern California had no problems in last week's opener, a 49-10 home victory over Hawaii. Barkley completed 23 of 38 passes for 372 yards and four scores as the Trojans cruised after building a 35-0 halftime lead.
"We're just excited to play football again," said Barkley, who passed on the NFL to return for his senior season. "There's so much talk, especially this year with all the rankings and the hype."
The hype figures to be intensified this weekend in the spotlight of the New York media, as USC has put up a billboard in Times Square for the occasion. The Trojans last played in the area in a 29-5 victory over Penn State in 2000 at Giants Stadium.
Barkley had one of the best games of his career in last year's 38-17 victory over Syracuse, completing 26 of 39 passes for 324 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. The Orange aren't exactly thrilled to see him again.
"Obviously, I was one of a couple of people that were hoping that he would go on and move on and go to the NFL," Syracuse coach Doug Marrone said. "I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I'm happy that he came back."
USC star receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee combined for 10 receptions, 145 yards and two scores in last season's matchup.
Lee put up eye-popping numbers last week with 10 receptions for 197 yards, including a 75-yard TD catch from Barkley on the Trojans' first play from scrimmage. Woods had six catches for 42 yards and two scores.
"If we can get the ball to (Woods) and (Lee) in space we can be pretty good," coach Lane Kiffin said.
The electrifying Lee also ran a kickoff back 100 yards for a score. He and the rest of the Trojans' speedsters will try to take advantage of an Orange special teams unit that already allowed an 82-yard punt return touchdown last Saturday in a 42-41 season-opening defeat to Northwestern.
"Obviously USC has great athletes everywhere and they're good football players, I think people have to understand that," Marrone said. "Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, they have a bunch of people back there as kickoff returners, every one of them is dangerous, we saw that obviously this past weekend against Hawaii."
Penn State transfer Silas Redd carried nine times for 56 yards and a touchdown in his USC debut.
Kiffin was also pleased with a new-look defensive line that lost three starters. Junior college transfer Morgan Breslin, sophomore George Uko and freshmen Antwaun Woods and Leonard Williams all had solid efforts.
"They're the story of the day," Kiffin said. "A lot of question marks there, and it seemed they made a bunch of plays."
Freshman linebacker Anthony Sarao is a native of Egg Harbor Township, N.J. He's the lone Trojan from New York or New Jersey.
The Trojan defense will get another look at Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who threw for 470 yards last week to rank among the top performers in the FBS. The senior completed 44 of 65 passes and had four touchdowns and one interception.
Nassib went 25 of 37 for 230 yards and one touchdown last season against USC. The Orange are hoping that experience prepares them for this rematch.
"Having played them before, I think that takes a little bit off of what you may look at as a coach as a possible distraction," Marrone said. "We have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we probably have more things to build on now than we've had in the past."
USC is trying to remain focused after it was revealed that an employee of the Los Angeles County assessor's office apparently gave gifts to long-departed tailback Joe McKnight and basketball player Davon Jefferson. The Trojans are still on probation, although their two-year bowl ban is over.
"We have discussed those allegations with the NCAA and Pac-12, and we will thoroughly investigate them and take any and all necessary actions," athletic director Pat Haden said.