Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, left, and USC quarterback Matt Barkley… (Jason O. Watson / U.S. Presswire;…)
USC junior Matt Barkley is striking a pose even as he's striking a nerve.
The quarterback emerged as a must-consider Heisman Trophy candidate with Saturday's four-touchdown performance at Oregon.
Barkley defeated Oregon a week after Oregon chopped down Stanford and quarterback Andrew Luck, the yearlong front-runner in the Heisman race.
After Saturday's game, Oregon Coach Chip Kelly said, "Matt Barkley is the best quarterback we've faced all year."
USC immediately put together a video package touting Barkley's Heisman case as the Trojans prepare for the final game of their season Saturday against UCLA at the Coliseum.
Barkley is trying to replicate the 2002 Heisman campaign, when Carson Palmer parlayed late-season performances against UCLA and Notre Dame to win the award.
Tuesday, though, Palo Alto fired back.
Stanford Coach David Shaw called "a joke, an absolute joke" the assertion that Luck has slipped in recent weeks.
"Nobody in college football is doing what Andrew Luck is doing," Shaw said on the Pac-12 coaches' weekly conference call.
Barkley has outperformed Luck dating to USC's triple-overtime loss to Stanford at the Coliseum.
Barkley, in four games counting Stanford, has thrown for 14 touchdowns with three interceptions.
Luck, in the same span, has thrown for 11 touchdowns with five interceptions.
Luck overall has completed 70.2% of his passes for 2,937 yards, with 31 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
Barkley has completed 67.5% of his passes for 3,105 yards, with 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Luck ranks No. 5, to Barkley's No. 13 in NCAA passing efficiency ratings.
The Barkley-Luck comparison is a tricky one, though, because the quarterbacks are clearly playing with different tool kits.
Luck has had to operate with a banged-up receiving corps that has lost deep threat Chris Owusu and tight end Zach Ertz.
Barkley is thriving with two brilliant receivers, sophomore Robert Woods and freshman Marqise Lee.
"We don't have two first-round draft picks playing wide receiver for us," Shaw said. "We have a nice solid team."
Kelly is not backing away from his Barkley comments.
"This is exactly what I said: In the games that we have played, against all the quarterbacks we have played, Barkley played the best against us," Kelly said. "Just look at his stats. He was 26 of 34, threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns. There's no one close to that.
"I also qualified that and said I'm not saying he's better than Andrew Luck. I'm not saying Andrew Luck is better than him. In the game against the Ducks, the best quarterback performance in the 11 games we've played was Matt Barkley."
Barkley, in the win at Oregon, completed 26 of 34 passes for 323 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
Luck, in his team's home loss to Oregon, completed 27 of 41 passes for 256 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions.
"I don't have a vote in any awards," Kelly said. "I don't want a vote in any awards. I'm giving Matt credit for what he did. If it bothers other people, so be it."
Barkley and Luck each has one more marquee chance to state his case. USC plays UCLA while Stanford plays host to Notre Dame.
"Right now, I'm splitting hairs," Heisman voter Tom Luicci, of the Newark Star-Ledger, said Tuesday. "I have those guys 1-2, with Luck slightly ahead at this point."
Bud Withers of the Seattle Times is also torn.
"It's really hard to judge," the veteran writer and Heisman voter said. "I'm a little suspicious of Luck's interceptions, but it's clear Barkley has a lot more weapons at receiver. If you evaluated Luck's receivers in reference to the rest of the league, would they be better than the bottom third?"
Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated has Luck and Barkley "neck and neck" with Luck slightly ahead because Stanford beat USC.
Mandel, though, isn't involving himself directly in this debate.
He has Luck and Barkley ranked behind Baylor's Robert Griffin III.