I bet this is not how he envisioned it going.
Despite having his BCS national title and Heisman hopes dashed and only a Rose Bowl berth to look forward to, the Trojan QB can still be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
When a player forgoes the draft after a stellar season, it is stunning decision when he returns for another year because he puts his draft status in jeopardy.
Barkley, however, was in a position where he had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
First, he wasn't the best quarterback prospect in last year's class. Stanford's Andrew Luck was being touted as the next John Elway and Robert Griffin III put Baylor football in the national spotlight on his way to winning the Heisman Trophy.
Second, under the NCAA's postseason ban, the Trojans had not been bowl eligible since Barkley was a freshman. He made it clear that he wanted to win a national title. Though that dream may be over along with his Heisman hopes, it was still a goal worth returning for.
All things considered, his draft status as a quarterback has been not been affected, simply because no QB has made a strong enough statement to be rated better than Barkley. Rather than stepping up, other prominent college QBs have struggled much the same way Barkley has.
Currently, only West Virginia's Geno Smith is competing with Barkley to be the No. 1 QB prospect for next year's draft, but he has regressed in recent weeks after a blistering start. Arkansas' Tyler Wilson is also in the mix because he has run a complex pro-style system under Bobby Petrino. However, his poor play this season leaves the QB discussion as a two-horse race. You can read more about Wilson here.
I will give credit where credit is due and point out that Smith has thrown for more yards per game, has fewer interceptions and has a better completion percentage than Barkley, but he shouldn't be an earlier pick than Barkley for a simple reason—he's a system quarterback. Even RG3 had to overcome this perception during last year's draft process and had to prove to scouts that he could run a pro-style offense.
Statistically, Houston's Case Keenum is the best quarterback in NCAA history (No. 1 in total offense, touchdowns and completions), but he went undrafted last year. It takes brains, not numbers, to be a successful NFL quarterback, and Barkley has that in spades.
For some reason, Barkley's struggles are more scrutinized than Smith's. West Virginia is on a three-game losing skid, yet some still consider Smith a better prospect than Barkley.
Smith posted big numbers this year until Texas Tech brought him back to earth; he managed only 278 yards and one TD. Rather than rebounding the following week against Kansas State, Smith again struggled, throwing for just 143 yards and only one TD. He was also picked off twice and was sacked four times.
Smith bounced back last Saturday against TCU with 260 yards and three TDs (including one INT), but he is clearly struggling as West Virginia has fallen out of the Top 25.
Barkley notably had a poor statistical showing against Stanford this year when he didn't throw for any TDs. He did, however, lead two drives that put the Trojans on the Cardinal 1-yard line, where Silas Redd punched the ball in for TDs.
Who is the best QB in this year's draft?
Against Arizona, Barkley threw for 493 yards, three TDs and two picks—both in the first half. He followed that up with a 484-yard performance against Oregon with five TDs and two INTs. Now, turning the ball over to Oregon at any point is dangerous because the Ducks can score from anywhere on the field in a hurry, but he immediately responded by throwing touchdowns after each of those picks.
To compare, in losing efforts, Barkley has thrown 1,231 yards and eight TDs. In the spirit of transparency, he has also thrown six picks in those games. In contrast, Smith has thrown for 681 yards, five TDs and three picks in his team's losses—a similar TD-INT ratio, but a significant difference in yards.
Barkley has experience that other QBs don't. He is a four-year starter who has continued to improve throughout his career. Despite his interceptions, he is on pace to have his best season in terms of yards, touchdowns and passer rating.
He has played in a pro system, so he has a better understanding than Smith of how to read defenses and call audibles.
He has received coaching from those with experience at the next level: current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll his freshman year and now Lane Kiffin, former head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
As of now, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Jacksonville Jaguars are on the fast track to earn the No. 1 overall pick. Both teams desperately need a franchise quarterback. The Chiefs will likely finish last since they have a more difficult remaining schedule.
Even though he is not the best player on the draft board, a quarterback will always be valued higher than other positions. Neither the Chiefs nor the Jaguars can afford to pass on him in hopes of picking him later because the Buffalo Bills also need a quarterback.
His final season as a Trojan may not have gone as planned, but Matt Barkley's decision to return has not affected his draft status, and he still has a great chance of going first overall in the 2013 NFL draft.