Barkley, Prince walked different paths

One was a superstar before he arrived on campus, the other barely noticed as a recruit, but Matt Barkley and Kevin Prince are each at their best headed into season finale Saturday.

LOS ANGELES – Matt Barkley and Kevin Prince have walked wildly divergent roads only to arrive at the same place.

Barkley was a star in the making from his arrival at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior and a bona fide five-star recruit.

UCLA cornerback Andrew Abbott knew it from the first time he met Barkley, an eighth grader still a year away from becoming the freshman starter for the Monarchs.

"I saw him on the sideline and they were telling me what type of player he was and that he was going to be coming here next year and how good he was. It was just cool to see a young kid have so much hype," Abbott said.

"Since day one I called him the Golden Boy. Since high school he has been a man. I knew when he said he was going to SC, I knew he was going to be big time one day."

Prince was a lightly regarded prospect at Encino (Calif.) Crespi, originally committed to Washington and expected to take an LDS mission that would delay any impact at the college level.

Nick Crissman and 2009 signee Richard Brehaut were regarded as the future of the program, but the scrappy Prince became a favorite of then-offensive coordinator Norm Chow.

But here they are, leading the 10th-ranked Trojans and unranked but Pac-12 championship game-bound Bruins into the Coliseum on Saturday night (7 p.m., Fox Sports Net) and playing the best football of their respective careers.

Barkley is coming off his signature moment, throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns as USC (9-2, 6-2 Pac-12) defeated Oregon at Autzen Stadium last week to put himself in the thick of the Heisman Trophy discussion.

The junior has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,105 yards and 33 touchdowns against seven interceptions, outpacing Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart in their Heisman-winning campaigns.

"The fact that we are finishing this season off on the right note is what people remember and what is in their minds right now," Barkley said. To leave on a good note, that's what people are finally noticing."

But Prince has also closed well, leading UCLA (6-5, 5-3) to wins in three of its last four games. The turning point was an embarrassing 48-12 nationally televised loss at Arizona, after which coach Rick Neuheisel gave his quarterback the green light to run the ball more.

"It was more of a kind of permission thing almost, when Coach Neuheisel kind of told me to let loose and play how I wanted to play," Prince said.

Since then, Prince has rushed for 318 yards to open up other elements of the Pistol offense. He has also completed 47-of-78 passes for 659 yards and five touchdowns against two interceptions.

"He can just play his game," running back Johnathan Franklin said. "He doesn't have to think too much. He can do whatever he wants out there pretty much."

Price will have to be at his best to secure only the second UCLA win in the last 13 years of the city championship.

Aside from the 13-9 shocker in 2006, there hasn't been much to celebrate in Westwood.

"Other than that, I just remember a whole lot of SC winning. I'd like to change that," Prince said.

A win would also guarantee the Bruins a bowl berth. Losses to USC and next Friday in the Pac-12 championship would mean 6-7 UCLA would need a waiver from the NCAA to play in a postseason game.

Barkley can lead USC to its first 10 win season and top-10 ranking since 2008, establishing the team as a BCS title contender next season.

But there are no guarantees beyond Saturday.

Barkley could declare for the NFL draft, where he would likely be a top-10 pick.

Prince has received no assurances he will start next season, not with Neuheisel's tenuous job status and touted freshman Brett Hundley waiting in the wings.

There is only this game, the bragging rights and everything else that comes with it.

"We want to be the top dog in LA," Prince said.

"This is the game that when you look back in 20 years you can say we beat UCLA," Barkley said, "This is the game you want to have."


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