Juniors with NFL potential and the shot at being drafted in an early round usually forgo their senior season. In Barkley's case, many assumed the junior would not stay a Trojan for one more year.
Barkley proved that assumption wrong.
By staying for his senior season, Barkley is part of a team that is currently favored to win the national championship for the 2012 season. In conjunction with that, he is the heavy favorite to win the Heisman. While it's still very early, could the quarterback really have a shot to win the coveted trophy?
In 2011, Barkley threw for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdowns, which helped lead the Trojans to a 10-2 record. Unfortunately, the Trojans were not eligible for postseason play, a result of Reggie Bush and the NCAA violations he committed. Regardless, Barkley played stellar football in 2011, and it currently appears that the preseason favorite will be right on the same track for 2012.
However, the Heisman will not be a cakewalk for Barkley.
According to Yahoo! Sports, Barkley faces a few athletes in 2012 that could snag the award away. Those athletes are Wisconsin running back Montee Ball, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. There are plenty more that could be added to this list, but those four make it tough enough.
While each of those individuals is going to give Barkley a run for his money, the Heisman is still his to lose. Working in the senior's favor, the Heisman currently appears to be owned by quarterbacks. Also, Barkley is in full health, unlike Lattimore, who will be coming back from a badly injured knee.
The strongest competition will be Jones, who is also a part of a team in national championship talks.
For Barkley to win the Heisman, he will need to play his 2012 season exactly like 2011, if not better. His presence is one that speaks for itself, and with big numbers Barkley is guaranteed an invite to New York City. While his team will play an important role in his Heisman potential, Barkley will need to continue as the strong USC leader that he is.
Barkley will start the 2012 season much like Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck did—perfect. In Luck's case, the Heisman was also his to lose, and unfortunately, he did. Hype can often be more damaging than helpful, but for Barkley, this could be the year to help USC erase the memory of Bush's vacated award. It's been a long time coming since 2005, but Barkley really has a shot at the Heisman.
After all, it is his, and his alone, to lose.