After a record-setting performance by Marqise Lee in Saturday's loss to Arizona, there's no reason to deny that the USC wideout will have a better NFL career than his highly decorated teammate, Matt Barkley.
Lee's 345 yards receiving Saturday afternoon was a Pac-12 record once set by Oregon State's Mike Hass in 2004 against Boise State. In addition to that feat, Lee added to his historic day with 16 receptions, two touchdowns and 123 yards in returns, giving him 76 receptions, 1,129 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. Barkley, on the other hand, had a big day throwing the ball in terms of yardage, but coughed up two interceptions in addition to some other bad throws.
One of the biggest stories in college football prior to the season was Barkley's decision pass up a potential top-10 selection in the NFL draft and come back for his senior year. While Barkley's future is still bright at the next level, his No. 1 receiver will end up with the better pro career because of his sheer talent and game-changing ways.
Quarterbacks always have the most pressure to succeed at the next level, and Barkley's career will be no different no matter where he's selected next April. Barkley and his 39 touchdown passes in 2011 had every NFL scout raving, especially considering the fact it was against just seven interceptions and led the Trojans to a 10-2 record.
However, finally eligible after the school's two-year postseason ban, the temptation to return for a shot at the BCS title lured Barkley back to the college ranks. The biggest question now is whether he can prevent a major hit to his draft stock. He's already thrown six interceptions so far, and he was a non-factor in the loss to Stanford earlier this season, completing just 48 percent of his passes and throwing two INTs.
Lee's career has taken off since he stepped on the field for the Trojans, and he's on pace to exceed his numbers from last season. What makes Lee even more enticing as a future pro is his effectiveness on offense no matter where he lines up. He's always a threat to make a play, both catching the ball and running with it.
You have to wonder if Barkley would have even had the season that he did last year had it not been for the play of guys like Lee and Robert Woods—an equally dangerous receiver. Yes, Barkley has the poise and accuracy to make it in the NFL, but can he prove that he's just as good of a quarterback without talented receivers making plays for him?
Lee has proved that all he needs is the ball in his hands to make something happen. And even though he knows the spotlight is on him, he doesn't abuse the added exposure with a cocky attitude. After the loss, Lee believed he could have done more to haul in a potential game-winning Hail Mary at the end:
USC WR Marqise Lee was despondent after the game. He truly believes he should have caught the Hail Mary.
— USC Trojans (@USC_Athletics) October 28, 2012
When all is said and done, Barkley may be the higher draft pick because of his position and his accomplishments, but Lee is the player with the most to offer a team.