It would be almost impossible to watch the Stanford - USC game on Saturday at the Los Angeles Coliseum without paying close attention to the two starting quarterbacks.
Though USC's Matt Barkley is one of the top quarterbacks in college football, he doesn't currently appear to be in the same class as Andrew Luck, the 2011 Heisman Trophy frontrunner.
Luck, who probably would have been the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, decided to stick around for his senior year, where he can perhaps lead the Cardinal to the BCS Championship game. USC head coach Lane Kiffin described Luck as perfect.
It's somewhat hard to argue with Kiffin as Luck's season statistics are outstanding. The third-year starter has thrown 20 touchdown passes in seven games, and only three interceptions. He has a 180.0 passer rating, and has completed nearly 72 percent of his passes.
The fourth-ranked Cardinal are undefeated, and have dismantled all of their opponents this season. Last season, Stanford had one loss and it was to eventual BCS finalist Oregon.
Stanford head to Los Angeles with the nation's longest winning streak (16 games), but will be playing a hot Trojan squad. USC are ranked 20th, and are coming off an impressive win over Notre Dame in South Bend last week.
The Cardinal needed a last-second field goal by Nate Whitaker to beat USC at home last season, 37-35, and the Stanford defense got a lesson in the growth of USC's starting quarterback. Barkley completed 28-of-45 passes for 390 yards, to go along with three touchdown passes without an interception.
In recent games, Barkley has looked particularly strong. In the junior's last three games, he has thrown nine touchdown passes, and only one interception.
How Barkley and Luck perform with so much attention on them will be a test for both players. First-year head coach David Shaw believes there is depth beyond Standford's star quarterback.
We're more than just Andrew Luck, Shaw said, according to ESPN. We've got a good team. We've got a physical team. We've got backs after backs. We can play both styles of football.
Though Stanford has solid players in nearly every area, Shaw is expected to be without strong safety Delano Howell, who is nursing a hand injury. That could be a key absence considering USC rely heavily on Robert Woods, one of the best wide receivers in college football.
Though many will be focused on the matchup of Luck vs. Barkley, there will be several NFL scouts looking at the offensive tackles of both teams. USC's Matt Kalil and Stanford's Jonathan Martin are expected to be among the first 10 picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Those offensive tackles will not only be protecting their star quarterbacks, but also trying to open up holes to strong running games, as well. Stanford's Stepfan Taylor has been on a roll lately. The junior has rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games, and has also rushed for four touchdowns in his last four games, while being a threat to receive. USC has two solid running backs in senior Marc Tyler, and junior Curtis McNeal, who is coming off his best performance in his college career last week against Notre Dame.
On the road, against a surging USC team seeking revenge for losing three out of the last four games against their northern California rivals, Stanford is in for their biggest test of the season.
LINE: Stanford are 8-point favorites.
OVER/UNDER: 60 points.
PREDICTION: USC will be amped for this game, and will be aggressive from the outset. Barkley will attack the secondary by hitting Woods and freshman Marqise Lee. Meanwhile, Luck should be particularly sharp in this shootout, as well. Expect Stanford tight end Zach Ertz to be heavily involved, and exploit a Trojan line backer corps that has at times failed to tackle effectively. This will be a very close game -- just like last year.
PREDICTED SCORE: Stanford 34, USC 33