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QB matchup takes a twist in USC-Stanford rivalry

Associated Press Modified: September 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm •  Published: September 13, 2012

STANFORD, Calif. (AP) — The last time Matt Barkley and Josh Nunes played against each other came at the 2009 Under Armour High School All-America Game in Orlando, Fla., except the real competition came when they were away from the football field.

Try table tennis.

Barkley, now the Heisman Trophy favorite and a member of Southern California's "Ping Pong Posse" club on campus, has always had a love for both games. Nunes, the new Stanford starting quarterback, had never met Barkley until swapping strokes during breaks or late at night in the hotel game room.

"Very competitive guy," Nunes said. "We played pingpong for hours."

Things will be a little different when they meet again.

In a critical tilt for both teams and quarterbacks, Barkley and second-ranked USC (2-0) head north to face Nunes and No. 21 Stanford late Saturday afternoon in the first Pac-12 matchup of the season. And with Andrew Luck long gone for the Cardinal (2-0), the quarterback subplot in this California rivalry is taking a twist.

Barkley has beaten every team in the conference but is 0-3 against Stanford. Luck led a 55-21 rout of the Trojans in 2009, a last-second 37-35 win in 2010 and took a triple-overtime thriller 56-48 a year ago at the Coliseum.

Barring a rematch in the league title game Nov. 30, Barkley's last shot will come against a quarterback who has made two starts in the past four years and, unlike Luck, somebody he barely knows despite both calling Southern California home.

"I remember liking him as a player who was straightforward and didn't really mess around, loved to ball and respected the game and worked hard at what we did," Barkley said, recalling his time with Nunes in Orlando in a phone interview with The Associated Press this week. "Other than that, it's all new."

All the way around, too.

The rivalry that has spilled onto the national stage of late has been built largely on the quarterback play, which has led to dramatic drives, stunning upsets and fantastic finishes. Four of the last five years, however, the only quarterback smiling at the end was on the Cardinal sideline — a fact Barkley has been reminded of constantly.

"It's come on more recently," Barkley said. "I think Andrew added a lot to that over the last couple years with how well he played. You look at the last two years, those games came down to the wire. I think that's kind of why it developed that relationship. They've earned a great reputation the last few years. I don't expect anything less this year."

Nobody knows quite what to expect from Stanford's new signal caller when he finally faces a formidable opponent.

Nunes starred at Upland High School and had offers from more than 30 major colleges. He visited USC for a few "Junior Days" and even explored the possibility of pitching for the Trojans baseball team until deciding on a football path. Once Barkley, the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior, committed to the Trojans, Nunes said he "kind of had the impression it wasn't going to happen" at USC.

Not that he would've gone there anyway.

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