Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley unloads a pass while under pressure from… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
UCLA Coach Rick Neuheisel said this week that the Bruins had "closed the gap" with USC.
After the 81st game between the rivals Saturday night, the gap remains wider than the Coliseum.
Wider than the roughly 10 miles that separate the campuses.
More like the Grand Canyon.
USC's 50-0 victory marked the 12th time in 13 games that the Trojans had defeated the Bruins and might portend the end of the Neuheisel era in Westwood.
UCLA can call itself the Pac-12 South Division champion and, at 6-6 overall and 5-4 in conference play, will head to Oregon's Autzen Stadium to play in the inaugural Pac-12 title game on Friday.
But USC, ineligible to play for the title, left no doubt that it remains the class of the division -- and perhaps more important, the class of Los Angeles.
The Trojans finished 10-2 overall and 7-2 in conference play. And, in a last act of defiance, they emerged from their locker room wearing T-shirts that read: "USC Football 2011 South Division Champions."
Before a sellout crowd of 93,607, the Trojans shut out the Bruins for the first time since 2001, when they won, 27-0. Safety T.J. McDonald and cornerback Tony Burnett preserved the shutout when they broke up Kevin Prince's fourth-down pass into the end zone with less than three minutes left.
"It's one thing to win a game," USC Coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's another thing to play really, really well."
Kiffin did everything possible to make sure quarterback Matt Barkley played well and stayed alive in the Heisman Trophy discussion, giving the junior ample opportunity to tie his school record of six touchdown passes in a game and break the conference record for touchdown passes in a season.
Kiffin has said that Barkley deserves a seat at the Heisman table for the Dec. 10 announcement in New York. So with fans in the student section chanting, "One more year!" throughout the game, Kiffin served as his personal concierge and attempted to make reservations.
Barkley passed for three first-half touchdowns as the Trojans built a 29-0 lead. He added two early in the third quarter and another early in the fourth to break Matt Leinart's school and conference record of 38 in a season.
"What a finish to the season," Barkley said. "You couldn't ask for anything better."
Kiffin never let up from start to finish, sending a message to UCLA and, perhaps the NCAA, that USC can be sanctioned but not silenced -- at least on the field.
Meantime, Neuheisel fell to 0-4 against USC and 21-28 overall in four seasons.
Kiffin claimed that he did not take Neuheisel's statement about closing the gap personally. But he said his players did.
"That's a pretty strong statement to make," Kiffin said, adding "I think they felt disrespected."
Said Neuheisel: "We can't feel sorry for ourselves. We've got to get up and get back to work and see if we can play a much better game in the conference championship game."
The Bruins had no answer for Barkley, who completed 35 of 42 passes for 423 yards, without an interception. Many of the passes were short routes or thrown on a line almost laterally to receivers near the sideline.
But two deep touchdown passes went to freshman receiver Marqise Lee, who caught a career-best 13 passes for 224 yards. Robert Woods had 12 receptions for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Tight end Randall Telfer and fullback Rhett Ellison also caught touchdown passes as the Trojans outgained the Bruins, 572-385.
UCLA came out wearing new all-white uniforms, but the Trojans barely gave the Bruins time to get them grass-stained. Just as Notre Dame and Colorado found out when they pulled a fashion statement with their helmets, the Trojans are not easily distracted.
USC needed four plays to score its first touchdown, five to score its second en route to a victory that gave the Trojans their first 10-win season since 2008. That was the season the Trojans finished 12-1 after a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.
USC, of course, isn't going anywhere this season, courtesy of NCAA sanctions that include a two-year bowl ban that will be lifted next season.
"It feels like Trojans football is back," Woods said. "Right now we're on a roll and we can take on anybody."
The question now: Will Barkley, McDonald, left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry come back to help the Trojans make a run at the Bowl Championship Series title?
All made big plays in the rout.
Kalil opened a hole for Curtis McNeal, who dashed 73 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Perry pressured Prince into a second-quarter interception in the end zone by McDonald.
"This night is too special to be thinking about that," Barkley said of a return. "That's still a long way off."
Two years ago at the Coliseum, USC did not embarrass the Bruins until the final minute, Barkley heaving a long touchdown pass to cap a 28-7 victory. Barkley had taken a knee the play before, but USC coaches called for the pass after Neuheisel called timeout.
No punctuation mark was needed Saturday.
It was over long before that.