Matt Barkley returned to USC because he had unfinished business.
Twelve months later, that business remained unfinished.
After deciding to bypass the riches of the NFL draft to return to school, everyone expected Barkley to lead the Trojans to a national championship. His senior year turned out to be a nightmare. Barkley threw a career-high 15 interceptions and saw his completion percentage dip six points from his junior year.
The Trojans wound up losing six games, as Barkley went from top-10 pick to borderline first rounder. A late-season shoulder injury further complicated things, causing many draft experts to write off Barkley's pro potential.
Whether it be in the early first, late second or somewhere in between, some team is going to draft the former Trojans' star. Here's why the team that takes that chance will get a cornerstone quarterback.
Experience is one thing Matt Barkley certainly does not lack.
Barkley was a four-year starter in college, in addition to four years in high school, giving him eight years of signal-calling experience.
His ability to handle adversity is what has impressed me most about Barkley. There are not many situations in which Barkley has not been in, giving him a leg up on his draft competition.
Barkley had just ended his freshman season when Pete Carroll left USC, and the NCAA handed down sanctions against the Trojans. Even as a freshman, Barkley was one of the leaders of the team who was able to keep the recruiting class intact, as well as guide them through the dark period.
Never once did he make any excuses for his poor play or his team's disappointment. It would have been easy for him to blame his lack of success on the sanctions, poor coaching or even dropped passes by his receiving corps. Yet every time adversity struck, Barkley stepped up and took responsibility for his team's shortcomings.
Although his collegiate career ended in disappointment, Matt Barkley was one of the best leaders USC ever had at quarterback. That quality is something that will translate well to the NFL.
Not many quarterbacks come from a pro-style offense anymore. Barkley, though, is one of the few pro prospects who has spent a significant amount of time under center in his collegiate career.
Barkley began calling his own plays in high school, something Lane Kiffin allowed him to do periodically in college. Many college quarterbacks struggle to learn the basic playbook, let alone call their own plays.
Barkley's sophistication at recognizing defenses at such a young age gives him an advantage over other quarterbacks in the draft. While Geno Smith and EJ Manuel are both more athletic than Barkley, they come from offenses that ran the majority of their plays out of the spread.
Much like Andrew Luck did at Stanford before him, Barkley took most of his snaps under center in college. Luck was able to make the transition to the NFL seamlessly, as will his former Pac-12 rival Barkley.
Draft experts knock Barkley because he doesn't have elite size or arm strength, but he isn't too far off in those categories.
While he stands at only 6'2", Barkley has an ability to move around in the pocket to create throwing lanes for himself. This allows him to make up for his height disadvantage by seeing around offensive linemen, not over them. He also moves very well when he gets outside the pocket.
He is never going to run by opponents, but Barkley is one of the best throwers on the run. His ability to move around allows him to carry out play-action fakes and bootleg passes better than anyone in the country.
While his lack of elite arm strength limits him on deep throws, Barkley thrives on underneath and medium passes by putting the ball in the right spot. Dan Shonka assesses his draft stock stating:
He gives his wide receivers, backs and tight ends a chance to run after the catch with the ball. Accurate outside the pocket throwing the ball on the run, rolling out right or left. Throws the swing passes and check-downs like he was born to do it.
While Barkley doesn't possess first class measurables, he is able to do the little things right that cover up his deficiencies. He reminds me a lot of Drew Brees because of this.
Despite his struggles this past year, Barkley still put up some terrific numbers.
Being able to produce even when you aren't at your best is a great trait to have as a quarterback in the NFL.
In 2012 he threw for 36 touchdowns in only 11 games and averaged a career high 8.5 yards per attempt. As his stats suggest, many of his perceived struggles weren't really his fault.
His offensive line play was spotty after losing Matt Kalil to the NFL last year and Khaled Holmes for a period of time during the season. Barkley was sacked 14 times in 2012, six more than his junior year, and was hit a countless number of other times. One of those hits eventually ended his season, adding to the miserable year he was already enduring.
As elite as Marqise Lee, Robert Woods and the rest of the Trojan offense was, they made quite a few mistakes that cost Barkley and the Trojans during the year. If you watched their games, many of his interceptions were thrown on dropped passes or wrong routes. All season Barkley couldn't get on the same page with his guys and it showed.
In light of all this, Matt Barkley was still able to put up respectable numbers. His struggles were a result of bad decisions on his part, miscommunication with his receivers and trying to do too much to keep his team in games.
Perhaps the biggest reason Matt Barkley will thrive in the NFL is because he rids himself of the Kiffin family (Lane on offense, Monte on defense)
Monte Kiffin may have been a great NFL defensive coordinator, but the Cover 2 defense didn't work in college. His college defenders were not smart or fast enough to run such a complicated defense, and it showed in many of USC's defeats.
No matter how well a quarterback plays, his team can't win games with those defensive statistics.
On offense, Lane Kiffin wasn't much better. Questionable play calling in certain spots led to too many failed conversions in key situations. Kiffin was also quick to abandon his game plan if things weren't going right early, leading to an "air it out" style that became predictable by the end of the game.
On top of all that, the entire team was poorly disciplined. USC committed the second most penalties in the nation last season. Penalties directly relate back to coaching, which in this case, wasn't too good.
With proper coaching and a offensive style that fits his game, Barkley has the skill set to become an immediate impact player in the NFL.