It's easy to question Matt Barkley's decision to stay at USC in the context of the Trojans' perceptibly disastrous 2012 season. The perception of Barkley as a surefire NFL QB has even diminished drastically after a disappointing 7-5 campaign.
However, after enduring a shoulder injury suffered against UCLA, Barkley is ready to hit the gridiron according to USA TODAY.
In the Sun Bowl, Barkley will have a big game and guide Southern Cal to victory in El Paso against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets on December 31 to cap off his impressive Trojan career in style.
This game will mark Barkley's chance to prove he is and has been worth the hype he's generated even since middle school, when he committed to the Trojans.
It's hard to argue with the hard numbers, as Barkley has thrown for over 12,000 yards, 116 touchdowns and just 48 interceptions. He has also registered a 34-16 record as a starter, though, which may be frowned upon in terms of his legacy—especially with the most recent disappointing campaign.
The quarterback is centrally to blame for the success or failure of most football teams, particularly someone as highly touted as Barkley has been. Despite an explosive supporting cast of skill players and a preseason No. 1 ranking, it never all came together for the Trojans this year.
National championship hopes, Heisman Trophy aspirations and a redemptive fourth and final year for Barkley never materialized.
Some of the blame has to inevitably fall on him as USC's leader. Barkley's accuracy has dipped by roughly four percentage points in his senior season, and his 13 interceptions are one shy of doubling his total as a junior.
But there were other factors that contributed to the team's lackluster performance. Shortcomings of the Trojan defense and what turned out to be a brutal schedule are far more to blame for the Trojans' struggles than Barkley and the offense.
Frequently playing from behind caused opposing defensive fronts to pin their ears back and tee off on Barkley in clear passing situations. It also forced throws that Barkley wouldn't normally make, and his reputation as a top collegiate quarterback and pro prospect has taken a hit as a result.
Considering how well Georgia Tech is able to run the football and the Trojans' general inability to defend, this would appear to be yet another instance where Barkley would have to will his teammates from behind to win the game.
It doesn't seem so far-fetched. A player of Barkley's caliber armed with the weapons at his disposal isn't likely to be held down. That's especially true because other than Barkley and the seniors leaving with him after this game, none of the current Trojans have ever played in a postseason bowl.
After enduring all the criticism of ultimately not getting the job done at Stanford and Arizona, at home to Oregon and against cross-town rival UCLA this season—whether he was to blame or not—Barkley will respond.
With more than a month to prepare, this will look like the Trojans team everyone expected to see when the No. 1 label was given to USC before the year kicked off.
The Yellow Jackets' secondary will be no match for the likes of Marqise Lee—who finished fourth in the Heisman voting—and Robert Woods, the duo that makes up one of the premier wide receiver tandems in the country.
This will be the first and last bowl game of Barkley's career, and his last start as a Trojan, period. Don't expect the most decorated QB in school history to leave without a victory—whether he gets his due credit for it or not.
After all, as Barkley says in the biography on his official Twitter account: "I play quarterback, but that doesn't define me."
It's hard to argue with him, because he quietly won the 2012 Wuerffel Trophy, which is awarded to the college football player who "best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement" (h/t WuerffelTrophy.org).
Barkley's playing career at Southern Cal will always be difficult to define with the two postseason bans, which prevented him from having more defining moments in what would have been marquee bowl games.
But a win over Georgia Tech will certainly end his unprecedented four-year starting tenure under center on a high note.