Now that he's had his hands washed from the messiness of shooting for team perfection, if not a national title, Matt Barkley can get back to the real issue at hand: Securing that top spot on April's NFL draft board.

Seriously, folks, if you're the quarterback of Southern Cal and you can't get by Stanford even once in four tries, even with Andrew Luck not under center for the Cardinal, then the ultimate fairytale - undefeated season, national title and Heisman Trophy - just isn't in your cards.

Oh, Barkley could still factor in the voting for college football's most-recognized individual honor. Heck, he could still win it.

But the dream of having it all ... that's gone. Erased after Zac Ertz took a Josh Nunes pass 37 yards to the house in Palo Alto, Calif., giving the Cardinal touchdown advantage early in the fourth quarter they never relinquished as Barkley and Co. responded with - well, nothing. The Trojans mounted no challenge in the final 10 minutes of a 21-14 loss.

Considering all the hullabaloo when Barkley announced he was staying at USC for his senior season, forgoing the NFL to take his supposed one real crack at a BCS championship, the whole experience, especially Saturday, has to have left the young man a little deflated.

Fortunately, should he remain physically unscathed this fall, he has a multimillion-dollar future ahead of him playing on Sundays. Even should he struggle in putting up big numbers with the Trojans this last go-'round, he'll be a high pick. Had he left after last season, he may have challenged fellow signal-callers Luck and Robert Griffin III for either of the top two slots in this past April's draft.

Entering this season, he was the odds-on favorite to exit it as the front-runner for No. 1.

He still could, and that's where his focus can be applied now. It stands to reason, the better he performs, the better USC, currently 2-1, will do anyway. But perfection ... that's gone. A national title ... that's more than likely gone, too - considering four more ranked teams inhabit the schedule, including a trip to Arizona, which seems to be completely re-energized under new coach Rich Rodriguez, the last Saturday in October.

That sounds a little ghoulish ... coming right before Halloween - especially a date vs. No. 3 Oregon on tap the following week.

The Trojans also dropped like a stone in the poll, falling from No. 2 to 13. Stanford, by the way, jumped from 21 to 9.

Reality is, the high hopes USC and Barkley had coming into 2012 may have been a bit of a stretch anyway. Yeah, all the NCAA sanctions had finally lifted. But the guy's front wall of protection has taken major hits in each of the past two off-seasons with tackles Matt Kalil and Tyson Smith being high first-round picks in 2012 and 2011, respectively. The defense suffered its losses, too, and the USC coaches were so comfy with 1,000-yard rusher Curtis McNeal as the featured back that they went ahead and pilfered Silas Redd after the fallout from the Penn State scandal.

Clearly, nothing was, or ever really is, a given. The warning signs for what happened at Stanford, though, should have been clear with the struggles USC had against Syracuse a week prior. The Orange haven't been a factor, even in a regional sense, never mind national, since Donovan McNabb was playing for them ... and considering he's already retired from the NFL after a long career, that gives you an idea of how irrelevant they've been for some time.

But they pushed the Trojans and Barkley ... hard.

Syracuse won the total yardage battle (455-445) and trailed just 21-16 entering the fourth quarter before losing by 13. Barkley threw for a career-best six TDs, but just 187 yards on 30 passing attempts. Not exactly the stuff of legend.

Nor was the sub-50 percent effort against Stanford that included two picks as well.


- Arizona, currently ranked 22nd, gets a chance to see where it really stacks up against the big boys this Saturday night in Eugene, Ore. Already impressive in a 21-point win against then-No. 18 Oklahoma State two weeks ago, the Wildcats take their show on the road to face national-title contender Oregon. Both squads are 3-0.

- Stepfan Taylor was the star of Stanford's upset of USC, rattling off 153 yards and a score on 27 carries while adding another 60 yards and a score on five catches. Not exactly flashy, he was terrific playing in Luck's shadow for years. It would be ironic if he pulled off winning the Heisman after Luck did not.

- Notre Dame made a statement with its dominating, 20-3 victory at Michigan State. The win has the Irish 3-0 for the first time in a decade. MSU entered the game ranked 10th, ND 20th. The Irish are now 11th and the Spartans 21st.

- Watch out for No. 14 Florida - the 3-0 Gators erupted at pumped-up Tennessee, rolling in the second half to a 37-20 decision. That followed an impressive, grind-it-out win at Texas A&M a week earlier.

- Watch out, No. 16 Ohio State - the Buckeyes haven't exactly been lights out of late, struggling mightily to beat Central Florida and California in Columbus, Ohio, the past two weekends.