USC Football: Comparing Matt Barkley's 2012 to Carson Palmer's Heisman Year

Amy LamareSenior Analyst IOctober 8, 2012

USC Football: Comparing Matt Barkley's 2012 to Carson Palmer's Heisman Year

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    Matt Barkley started the season as the undisputed Heisman favorite. Since then, he’s fallen off the radar a bit, somewhat unfairly.

    His numbers aren’t as good as last year’s; that much is true. Geno Smith of West Virginia and other candidates are putting up great seasons.  But Barkley’s 2012 season would be considered great without the hype and expectation he entered 2012 with.

    Similarly, USC’s Heisman-winning QB Carson Palmer’s senior season wasn’t going that well at first.  In fact, Palmer’s Heisman buzz didn’t get started until the sixth week of the 2002 season when the Trojans, then 3-2, went on what is now a legendary tear through their schedule.

    Let’s take a look at Matt Barkley and Carson Palmer’s senior seasons and how they compare:

Carson Palmer’s Senior/Heisman Season

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    We’re just talking about Carson’s senior season of 2002, but to recap very briefly, Palmer entered his final season at USC not having lived up to the hype he was recruited with. While that is at direct odds with Matt Barkley’s experience, it is valid because of the media hype (or reverse hype) as it may be that he was under at the time.

    Pete Carroll was hired by USC in 2001, Palmer’s redshirt junior season, and this was yet another new system the QB had to learn.  When the 2002 season began, USC was ranked in the top 20. 

    They started the season with a win against Auburn and then went on the road to face two ranked Big 12 teams. The Trojans beat Colorado but lost to Kansas State.  

    The Trojans and Palmer opened their Pac-12 schedule with a shutout win against a ranked Oregon State team but then lost on the road to ranked Washington State. (Wow. Remember when Wazzou wasn’t a joke?)

    After five weeks of the 2002 season, the Trojans were 3-2 and the offense finally clicked under the leadership of Carson Palmer.  From that point on, the Trojans scored 30 or more points in every game for the rest of the season.  

    During this period, Palmer averaged 330 or more yards per game for the rest of the season. To put it simply, Palmer was on fire.

    USC then routed a ranked UCLA team at the Rose Bowl and went on to demolish Notre Dame 44-13 while putting on an offensive display that signaled the return of Trojan dominance.

    Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, despite less than auspicious starts to his USC seasons, coaching changes and injuries.

Matt Barkley’s Senior Season to Date

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    Matt Barkley’s USC began much like Carson Palmer’s in that he endured a coaching change early in his career at Troy. 

    He then more or less breezed through his sophomore and junior seasons when USC was not eligible for the post season free of injury and on pace to be the greatest Trojan QB ever. (Cited by more sites than worth mentioning here. It is hyperbole and well-founded at that.)

    Barkley blazed into 2012 with the motto “Unfinished Business” and was largely regarded as the Golden Boy. He would lead USC back to the national championship, he would bring another (untarnished) Heisman to Heritage Hall.

    Barkley started the season well with a win at home vs. Hawaii where he went 23-of-38 for 371 yards, four TDs, no INTS for a 60.5 percent completion average.

    At Syracuse, Barkley was 23-of-30 in crazy weather conditions for 187 yards, six TDs, 1 INT and a 76.7 percent completion average.  It is crazy that Barkley had only 187 yards but six touchdowns.

    His downslide as far as the media is concerned began at Stanford, where Barkley struggled, going 20-of 41 for 254 yards, no TDs, two INTs and a 48.8 percent completion average.

    Against Cal, Barkley was 22-of-34 for 192 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs and a 64.7 percent completion average.

    Then, USC made their first trip to Salt Lake City since 1917 and the Golden Boy returned, going 23-of-30 for 303 yards, three TDs, no INTs and a 76.7 percent completion average.

    Barkley’s 194.5 passer rating mirrors his return to the national conversation about potential Heisman winners. At Utah, Barkley looked confident, had enough protection in the pocket to make plays, handled the rush from the Utah front four and did not lose focus when the Trojans fell behind in the first two minutes of the first quarter.

    Much like Carson Palmer in his senior season, Matt Barkley has found his stride after five games and is poised to take the next seven by storm, setting up his re-emergence as a Heisman front-runner and yet another in the illustrious line of Trojan quarterbacks.

    Barkley also has a great backstory, and the Heisman voters like backstories. He came back for his senior season, turning down the NFL and its millions of dollars.

    He has traveled to South Africa, Nigeria and Mexico on humanitarian relief trips but was devastated by the destruction the earthquake in Haiti caused. Barkley and 15 other Trojan football players went to Haiti last summer to build four houses, move relief supplies and lift the spirits of Haitians sill recovering from the 2010 earthquake.

Palmer 2002 and Barkley 2011-12 by the Numbers

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    Here's a comparison of Palmer (2002), and Barkley (2011) with 2012 stats to date in parentheses

    Completion Percentage

    Barkley - 69% (2012: 64.2%)
    Palmer - 63%

    Passing Yards

    Palmer - 3,942 yards
    Barkley - 3,528 yards (2012: 1,308 through five games)

    TD Passes

    Barkley - 39 TDs (2012: 15 through five games)
    Palmer - 33 TDs

    Interceptions

    Barkley - 7 INTs (2012: 5 through five games)
    Palmer - 10 INTs

Palmer's 2002 vs. Barkley's 2012

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    Look, I am not denying that Barkley has work to do to truly get back into the Heisman conversation. However, the parallels between Palmer’s senior year and Barkley’s are valid and interesting.

    Is Barkley poised to have a breakout season and set himself firmly into the Trojan lore?

    Next up, Barkley and the Trojans face Washington in Seattle, a game that is not a forgone victory by any means. Then they come home to face Colorado at the Coliseum before going to Tucson to face a dangerous RichRod Arizona Wildcat team.

    November is a minefield with Oregon, Arizona State, UCLA and Notre Dame.

    If Barkley can guide USC through that rigorous schedule and not rack up another loss or an off game, there is a very good chance he will be amongst the chosen few invited to New York for the presentation of the 2012 Heisman Memorial Trophy in December.