California's Golden Boy has had a rough start in 2012.
The preseason Heisman favorite has looked "off" in the first four weeks of the college football season and some media members have gone so far as to say Matt Barkley is out of the race.
Exactly how was Baylor's Robert Griffin III looking in the fourth week of the 2011 season?
Baylor, to its credit, did launch a Heisman campaign for the eventual Heisman Trophy winner in late July of last year. Player cards were sent to Heisman voters and ostensibly members of major media outlets—I still have mine. It was an effective strategy because the cards were well-done and were a re-occurring reminder for voters. On the contrary, USC wasn't very aggressive in marketing Barkley for Heisman last year and that holds true this year as well.
Griffin was seriously being considered as a Heisman finalist last November. Not everyone was on board. JOX radio's Paul Finebaum admitted on twitter that he didn't vote for Griffin. Finebaum actually left Griffin completely off of his ballot.
Regional bias isn't anything new for Heisman. With many games starting at 7:30 Pacific Standard Time, most voters in the East are probably counting sheep in their heads when teams in the West are kicking off. They may miss some important games. They may not see the week-in, week-out performances of some outstanding athletes playing west of the Mississippi.
It's a disadvantage to Pac-12 teams. And their Heisman candidates.
But Barkley is different. He has a story. And it's a good one.
Barkley will actually graduate from school. He and his teammates traveled to Haiti over the past summer to help build homes for disadvantaged Haitians. He's a spiritual young man. And he passed up millions of dollars to play for a BCS Championship. He's a good guy and he has unfinished business.
The Heisman voters love good stories.
LSU's Tyrann Mathieu had a great story in 2011.
You wanted to root for the Honey Badger because he appeared to have overcome hardship while growing up in a dysfunctional family. Mathieu's past is riddled with heartbreak and sadness: His father is serving a life sentence for murder and his mother didn't even raise him—his aunt and uncle did.
But last October he was suspended for violating team rules.
Eventually, he was dismissed from the team and reportedly went the rehab route.
Good feeling gone.
Barkley's story, on the other hand, still has a couple of unread chapters. If he can put together a string of productive games leading up to the Trojans' showdown with the Oregon Ducks on November 3—and beat the Ducks—he will be right back in the thick of the race.
True, Barkley had the Heisman to lose when this season started.
The problem with having something to lose is that sometimes you become complacent—it's harder to beat back challengers, than to chase the competition down. Barkley, sans the bullseye on his back, is now one of those challengers trying to get back to the top.
The Heisman is won in November, not October. There are still plenty of games for him to prove his mettle including Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame. All of those games are in November.
If Barkley can conjure up that same magic he had last November, he'll be in New York in December.
We don't know how his story will end but don't dismiss a suspense-like story ending.
Heisman loves good stories.