Matt Barkley’s senior season isn’t going the way Trojan fans thought it would. With the exception of the Colorado game, he isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire—or living up to the standards he set in his first three seasons at Troy.
In fact, he’s been so off his game lately it begs the question: Is there something wrong with Matt Barkley?
Is he nursing a shoulder, arm or hand injury? What is going on that has suddenly made this Golden Boy lose his confidence, give away reads and hesitate at the line of scrimmage? Is it in fact an injury or is he having issues with Lane Kiffin? The Trojan head coach is famously mercurial, so that could be the issue.
Barkley arrived on the USC campus just shortly before Pete Carroll bolted for the NFL and sanctions, bowl bans and scholarship reductions struck the program he had been committed to since he was a little boy declaring he would be the QB at USC when he grew up.
Last season, Barkley was a near shoe-in to be a first-round pick in the NFL draft, but he turned down the paycheck and Sunday glory in favor of “unfinished business” at USC. Somehow I don’t think 6-2 with his Heisman campaign and the team’s sunken National Title hopes were exactly what Barkley had in mind, especially after how the Trojans finished off the 2011 season.
After an early-season loss to ASU and a mid-season triple-overtime loss to Stanford, Barkley and the Trojans went on an epic run in their last six games of 2011. Barkley threw for 23 TDs and six INTS in his final six games last year, leading his team to a top-five finish despite their postseason sanctions.
The Trojans' finish last season, and most notably Barkley’s performance, was so strong and impressive that the QB's decision to return to USC for his senior season catapulted the Trojans to the top of the preseason charts and Barkley to the top of the Heisman race.
That was only eight weeks ago. It seems like a lifetime ago.
At USC, your legacy is measured in trophies and titles. Ask any Trojan how they feel about Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Now ask them how they feel about John David Booty and Rob Johnson. There is a big difference. Two are heralded as the epitome of the USC QB. The other two are considered little more than placeholders: Johnson in the post-Rodney Peete era, Booty in the post-Palmer/Leinart era.
Matt Barkley was supposed to be the next coming of the great Trojan QB.
Don’t get me wrong—Barkley’s career at USC has been amazing. In 2011 alone he was 308-of-446 for 3,528 yards, 39 TDs and just seven INTS. No wonder he was the preseason odds-on Heisman leader.
Over his USC career to date, Barkley is 926-of-1437 for 11,320 yards, 105 TDs and 41 INTs with five games yet to play. Make no mistake; Barkley will go down as one of the greatest Trojan QBs of all time.
It’s just that Trojan nation wanted so much more for this young man who committed to USC, then recommitted when Carroll left and the sanctions came down, then turned down the sure multimillion dollar NFL paycheck to come back to USC for his senior season.
As a Trojan fan and alumni, I will break the rules to say: WE wanted more for him.
USC is just past the midway point of Barkley’s last season as the USC quarterback. He is faced with the toughest stretch of his career—a four-game minefield that will seal the Trojans’ fate this season and cement Barkley’s ongoing legacy at USC.
Barkley’s time at USC is running out, and while no one will argue that it hasn’t been a special and memorable journey, certain milestones haven’t been met. He has never beaten Stanford. There will be no crystal football coaches trophy, there will be no Heisman. At this point, there might not even be a Rose Bowl. There might not be a BCS bowl.
For a team coming off a two-year bowl ban, that is a crushing proposition to both the players that have stuck with the program and their ridiculously passionate fan base. (I know of what I speak here, folks.)
The fact is, Matt Barkley, with the exception of the Colorado game, hasn’t seemed himself since the loss at Stanford. (And frankly, Colorado is so woeful that one has to put that offensive firestorm into a certain perspective.)
The golden boy with the million-dollar smile, cannon of an arm and effortless manner has been replaced by a grimmer, more determined player who seems, at times, at a loss as to what to do.
Of course much of that has to do with USC’s reduced roster—which has been further reduced by injury. How can a QB settle in with a constantly revolving cast of characters protecting him on the line and on his blind side?
One could make the argument that a Heisman-caliber QB would be able to adjust, and I won’t argue with that. However, Barkley can also only be as good as the plays that his coach calls, and we all know there are massive issues there.
In what was supposed to be a dream season for Barkley to end his career with—after all, with all-world-style receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee—why wouldn’t Barkley (and everyone) think the USC offense would come in and put on a show?
But no, Kiffin has turned USC into a running team that relies on its defense and plays not to lose. Digest that—Kiffin’s motto is not to play to win, it is to play not to lose. That is not the USC way, folks.
Since the loss at Stanford, Barkley’s pass attempts have by and large decreased every week with the exception of Arizona (31-of-49). When Barkley has attempted long passes, they have more often than not been thrown into space. This has made me wonder if he isn’t injured in some way. That would be a viable explanation for his change in demeanor and stats. I wonder if Barkley and Kiffin are on the same page or if they are having some issues. If so, they need to resolve those, and fast. Oregon is coming to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, and they will be looking for revenge for last year’s USC win at Autzen.
USC could get demolished. In fact, if they play as they did versus Arizona, they will get demolished. USC plays its last four games in Los Angeles, with three of those in the Coliseum. Perhaps things will change on the Trojans' home turf. Unless Kiffin opens up the playbook and calls more than the five plays (generalization!) he’s been calling, though, Barkley and the Trojans don’t stand a chance this weekend against the Ducks or in coming weeks against at least one or two of their remaining games versus ASU, at UCLA and versus Notre Dame.
This isn’t the finish USC fans or the media envisioned for Matt Barkley. He deserved more. He deserves to go down as one of the greatest Trojans of all time. He has, after all, embodied the qualities of the “Ideal Trojan” as engraved on the base of Tommy Trojan: “Faithful, Scholarly, Skillful, Courageous, and Ambitious.”