USC quarterback Matt Barkley rallied his team from an early 14-point deficit to lift the Trojans to a 38-28 victory over the Utah Utes and keep USC in the hunt for a Pac-12 championship game berth.
That win on the road in Salt Lake City also gave Barkley a huge dose of confidence and threw his name back in the hat for the Heisman race.
Barkley went 23-of-30 for 303 yards and three touchdowns despite a very sloppy start by the Trojans in their first two possessions. Barkley rallied his team from the sidelines after Utah scored two quick touchdowns in the first three minutes of the game; he was smiling and loudly talking to his teammates after a Ute touchdown off a turnover.
While Barkley did have seven incomplete passes in his stats, at least two of those passes should have been caught. Tight end Xavier Grimble dropped a perfect corner fade in the end zone, and receiver Marqise Lee (12 receptions, 192 yards and one touchdown) somehow managed not to hang on to a beautiful long ball that landed squarely in his hands.
After two ho-hum games from Barkley against Stanford and Cal, the Golden Boy has returned to his winning form, it would seem. Statistically, this was Barkley's best game. and his 194.5 passer rating mirrors that. He looked confident, he handled the rush from the Utes front four and he didn't panic when the Trojans fell behind quickly in the first quarter.
Was this his Heisman moment?
Probably not, considering Notre Dame and Oregon are still on USC's slate. But if Barkley can keep his statistics fairly consistent leading up to those high-profile games, then he should be a legit contender. Prior to the Utah victory, Barkley had looked a little "off"; he wasn't making good decisions when under pressure, and some of his throws were wildly off-target without any pressure from opposing defenses.
Thursday night's spectacle, however, looked like vintage Barkley: calm, cool, collected and accurate while throwing daggers all night. But it's not just his arm that puts him back in the conversation.
Barkley also has a story.
He came back for his fourth year at USC, ostensibly turning down millions of NFL dollars. He traveled to Haiti over the summer to help build houses for the underprivileged. He is, by all accounts, a real nice guy, and he's never been in any trouble.
Heisman likes good stories.
Matt Barkley is behind the eight ball right now with West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith holding a commanding lead in the Heisman race. But Smith may stumble down the road, and we still don't know Geno Smith's story.
We've seen Heisman contenders rocket to the front and then just fade off into the sunset. It's doubtful that Smith will fade anywhere (except on a pass in the end zone) because he's just that electric, just that talented.
But Matt Barkley was the preseason favorite coming into this season, and right now, he's back in the race.