The USC Trojans have endured an incredibly disappointing 2012 campaign in the context of their preseason No. 1 ranking. QB Matt Barkley's shoulder injury will keep him out of the Sun Bowl on December 31st against Georgia Tech, but the Trojans will be able to muster a victory without him.
Barkley himself broke the distressing news about his status on his Twitter page:
Doctors haven’t cleared me to play, so I won’t be suiting up on Saturday. I’ll be here with my team to finish strong. Proud to be a Trojan!— Matthew Barkley (@MattBarkley) December 27, 2012
It's an unfortunate end to an uneven career for Barkley in his four-year tenure as the Trojans' starting quarterback.
He holds 20 records at USC and set the Pac-12 record by throwing 116 touchdowns (h/t The Tennessean). Barkley wasn't able to enjoy the postseason success in his last three years that many of his predecessors did, though, due to NCAA violations by the program and now an injury to cap it off in 2012.
Freshman QB Max Wittek will take over in Barkley's absence, and will be able to do what needs to be done to get the "W."
At 6'4" and 235 pounds, Wittek brings an imposing presence to the pocket. He has a strong arm and good-enough accuracy to get the ball to playmakers Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and Xavier Grimble, among others.
Although he will catch some flack for guaranteeing a victory against rival Notre Dame in the regular season finale, Wittek has the attitude required to take over a big-time college program like USC. Wittek especially has large shoes to fill for the likes of Barkley.
Offense hasn't really been the problem for the Trojans. Rather, the talented but leaky defense has been the culprit for many of the team's shortcomings.
Who will win the Sun Bowl?
Teams with spread offenses that rely on strong passing games are what have given the Trojans the most trouble, and the Yellow Jackets' offense is a far cry from that. The flexbone triple option attack implemented by Paul Johnson may work against fellow ACC competitors, but the USC defense is extremely athletic.
Since the Yellow Jackets' offense is so unconventional, the Trojans had difficulty showing their scout team just how to run Georgia Tech's plays four a couple of days, according to ESPN Los Angeles' Pedro Moura.
However, top Trojans CB Nickell Robey indicated that the team's Sun Bowl showdown will either result in a blowout victory or be a disaster with no other outcome in between:
This game can either be a really good game or it can be really bad—there will be no gray area...You’re going to see if we’re really prepared or not, because that’s the type of team they are with their offensive system.
Robey himself is questionable for Monday's game (h/t USA TODAY), but it's not as though the Yellow Jackets will be a massive passing threat.
The confident presence of Wittek under center meshes well with head coach Lane Kiffin's bravado. With a running game led by Silas Redd and Curtis McNeal to balance the explosive passing attack, USC could easily jump out early with several big plays early.
Putting Georgia Tech into an early hole will force more throws and likely more turnovers generated by the USC defense, which is tied for 14th in the nation in takeaways with 29.
There is no lost respect for the Yellow Jackets—they nearly won the ACC and clinched a BCS berth, after all. But this is a bad matchup on both sides of the ball, and should lead to a victory for the Trojans despite the premature end to their distinguished QB's career.