Sports

NFL or USC? What the Future Holds for Matt Barkley

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Matt Barkley has become one of the best quarterbacks in college football and in the past few weeks he has made a strong case for the Heisman Trophy.

He made Robert Woods an early favorite for several awards, giving his sophomore WR the ability to break two NCAA receiving records; Freddie Barnes’ (2009, Bowling Green) 155 receptions in a single-season and Trevor Insley’s (1999, Nevada) single-season receiving yards mark of 2,060. Entering the record books was out of reach for Woods, not because of the mid-season emergence of freshman Marquise Lee, but because he would need one, possibly two more games to attain it.

The USC Trojans are arguably the best team in the Pac-12. They already defeated the North Division champs, Oregon, 38-35 on November 19th in Eugene. They will not have the opportunity the beat them again. Next week in the Pac-12 Title game, UCLA will play the Ducks instead; a team that got shut-out by the Trojans 50-0 last Saturday night.

Southern Cal will not get their chance to play for the conference title and a spot in the Rose Bowl. Woods will have to settle for the conference’s single season reception record instead of the NCAA’s. The USC football team will have to end their season just knowing they are the South Division champions. Not because they aren’t good enough. Because they aren’t allowed.

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In 2012, however, all bets are off. The USC Trojans should open the 2012 season ranked in the top five, with a legitimate  chance to end the SEC’s run of five (most likely six) national championships. Woods will be back in the chase for 156 receptions and 2,061 yards, or at least his own 103 reception mark and the school record of 1,520 yards (set by Johnnie Morton in 1993). The Trojans may not only have an early favorite for a Heisman but may produce the No. 1 overall NFL Draft pick in 2013. That is, if Matt Barkley stays…

Without Barkley, those things may not be accomplished. Not because they won’t be coached well, or because they aren’t good enough, but because Barkley is that good – he changes everything. Against the Pac-12 South “champs”, Barkley threw for 423 yards and six touchdowns; giving him the USC single-season passing TD record of 39 (Matt Leinart previously held the record of 38). In the fourth quarter he set the Trojan single-game mark when he completed his 35th pass of the game. Woods and Lee became only the fourth duo in USC history with more than 1,000 receiving yards each.

Not only does Barkley hold the USC records for passing touchdowns in a season and completions in a game, he also holds USC records for passing yards in a game with 468 (vs. Arizona 10/1/11) and passing TDs in a game at six (twice, vs. Colorado 11/4/11 and vs. UCLA 11/26/11). Three records are within reach; career completions (927, Carson Palmer), career passing touchdowns (99, Matt Leinart), and career passing yards (11,818, Carson Palmer). Barkley is just short of all three. At the end of the 2011 season Barkley has 755 completions, 80 touchdowns, and 9,054 yards.

A little over a week ago, Trent Richardson said he was staying for his senior year at Alabama. This week, sources close to Andrew Luck say he will forego his final year of eligibility and be the first overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. What will Barkley decide? According to him, he has no idea what he’s doing next year.

There are benefits to either of Matt Barkley’s decisions. I’ve had discussions with my good friend, managing editor of crystalballrun.com, Aaron Torres about Barkley. Aaron (or Torres as I call him) was kind enough to put his argument for Barkley staying into words:

“Alright, so truth be told, I have no inside scoop on Barkley. I don’t know him personally, I don’t know him professionally, and if he was asked to, I’m pretty sure he couldn’t pick me out of a police lineup of two people. Then again, my own mother probably couldn’t either, so I don’t really blame him.

But while I can’t share any inside scoop, I can see into the future. And what I see in that future for Barkley, is 12 more months as a USC Trojan.

Again, I have no inside information. At the same time, I have been following Barkley since high school, and what I know is this: It means something to him to be a USC Trojan, the same way it meant something to Tim Tebow to be a Florida Gator or Colt McCoy a Texas Longhorn. He grew up rooting for the school, attending Pete Carroll’s football camps, and watching the guys you mentioned above Dory- Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and others- lead USC to Pac-10 and National Championships. And I can see it in his eyes, and hear it in his voice that he wants that for himself.

Under normal circumstances, Barkley probably would’ve had the same things Sanchez and Leinart had; the conference and maybe even National Championships. The problem is for Matt Barkley, nothing has been “normal” since he got to USC. Not with Carroll leaving for the NFL, not with Lane Kiffin coming to town, and certainly not with the NCAA sanctions that have forbid the Trojans from playing in the postseason the last two years. It obviously wasn’t Barkley’s fault that all that happened, but he has been one of the bystanders that was hardest hit by others indiscretions.

Yet despite it, the one thing that has never wavered is Matt Barkley’s commitment to the University of Southern California. He held the team together during the coaching change, when nobody knew what the program’s future was. He stayed in town when nobody would’ve blamed him for leaving. And he weathered a very un-USC like 8-5 season last year, and early struggles in 2011. And now, he’s put himself in the position that you mentioned above, with an opportunity to come back and play for a preseason top five team and potential Pac-12 champion.

Now is Matt Barkley’s time. You know it. I know it. Most importantly, so he knows it too.

Again, under normal circumstances, I suspect he would be gone. But why leave now? He’s weathered the storm, stuck though the lowest points, and it’s time to start enjoying the fruits of his labor. He’ll have two 1,000 yard receivers to throw to, a great running back to take the pressure off him, and a defense that might not be deep, but is scary talented. College football is supposed to fun, and Barkley will never have more fun that as a senior in 2012.

More importantly though, is this: I know that Matt Barkley wants to be named in the same breath as Leinart, Sanchez and Carson Palmer. He wants his legacy to be more than one Emerald Bowl win over Boston College as a freshman, which unfortunately is all that it is now. Those Rose Bowls and BCS bowls that he grew up watching and hoping to play in one day are still just dreams. He doesn’t have any more Pac-12 championship trophies than you or I do.

As for the arguments against Barkley returning, well, I get them. I really do. That doesn’t mean I buy them though. He comes from a comfortable family where it doesn’t appear that he feels the need to provide for his family. On the surface, he seems purer than Tim Tebow’s bathwater, so I doubt he’ll get in any trouble off the field.

Then of course there is the whole, “what if he gets hurt?” thing. Ok, well let me ask you this: Remember Sam Bradford? He turned down the opportunity to be the top pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, returned to school…and subsequently got hurt in the first half of the first game of the season. He only played a handful of snaps from that point on, basically making his redshirt junior year a wash.

And guess what? He still ended up the No. 1 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.

What’s the point? Just that the NFL is a quarterback driven league, and there aren’t enough elite quarterbacks for NFL teams to start passing on the opportunity to draft one. If Matt Barkley comes out this season, he’ll be a top five pick. And as long as he’s not busted with a suitcase full of drugs between now and the 2013 NFL Draft, he’ll be one of the top picks then too.

Anyway, I’m rambling, so let’s wrap up.

In the eyes of most USC fans, Matt Barkley is already a legend. Not only for what’s he done on the field, but most importantly, the leadership he’s shown off of it.

But if he comes back to USC next year, and wins a Rose Bowl or more? Well, he’ll be immortal.

That more than anything is why he’ll stay.

To Trojans fans, Fight on!

And to the rest of college football, be very afraid.

Matt Barkley will be comin’ to your cit-ay in 2012!”

Torres makes a pretty compelling argument. However, from a pro-NFL standpoint there is a strong argument for him to leave.

If Barkley would forego his senior year, as hard of a decision as it might be, he’d be doing it because he felt it was best for him. Not USC, not Lane Kiffin, not his teammates, for him. Some people think this is selfish, but I’m not one to think a player leaving early tarnishes their character or reputation. I think each player needs to do what’s best for them. You go to college to get a good job right? If you’re a football player, the best job you can have is playing in the NFL.

There are 120 teams in the FBS and 126 in the FCS. Without getting into how many scholarships each subdivision is allowed to grant, let’s just low-ball it and call it 100 players per roster. Does each player on all 246 teams have a legitimate shot at the NFL? No. At some form of pro football? Well the number certainly increases. At maximum there are 1,696 players on active rosters in the NFL. More if you count practice squads, IR list, etc. Then there’s the CFL, UFL, AFL, and IFL and so on. Each player goes to college for their own personal reasons – some to get to the NFL, some to open doors for other things, some use football as a way to pay for college. Looking at the numbers, it suffices to say that being considered as a first round draft pick is extraordinarily special. What’s that have to do with Barkley? Well, a few things.

You take the opportunity that is presented to you. His NFL career isn’t guaranteed after next season. A first round draft pick, possibly a top eight selection is guaranteed now. The Colts will win the Andrew Luck Lottery, which leaves Miami (3-8), Seattle (4-7), Washington (4-7), Buffalo (5-6), Kansas City (4-7), and maybe Jacksonville (3-8). I’m including the Jags since it was announced one of the McCowns (not sure which one, I keep getting them mixed up) is starting and Del Rio might get the axe. There are teams even the worse  – the Rams and the Panthers, but neither team is trying to replace Sammy or Cam. If anything, maybe trade their low picks back to another team, like the Redskins, Seahawks, or Bills. None of those three teams are actually putrid, but could be considered in dire need of a QB for the future especially Seattle (more on that in a minute). Back to Barkley.

That’s six teams (not including the Colts) that will all be vying for a top QB that can come in immediately grasp a system, and become the possible starter. With Luck off the board that leaves Matt Barkley and Robert Griffin III.

Barkley could walk into Miami and be more productive than Matt Moore. He could easily end up in Seattle playing for the guy whose camps he went to when he was little and the coach that recruited him at USC, Pete Carroll. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Seattle traded down – way down – to take Barkley.

Why should he roll the dice with his future? Tim Tebow, in my opinion, isn’t a great example in this instance. Tebow was never faced with a top-anything pick. Hell, Tebow was considered anywhere from a mid-to-late second round guy to late third. Sorry, Tebowites. You’re lucky I didn’t put Denver on the looking-for-new-QB list. I want to and I will, when he stops winning. The only similarities between Barkley and Tebow are a squeaky clean image and a way to make the ladies swoon.

Let’s talk about the possibility of an injury. Sam Bradford was actually injured twice in 2009. He suffered an AC joint sprain in the season opener and was out three weeks, then re-injured his shoulder on the second possession of the Texas game – his second game back. Shortly afterwards, Sammy decided to have shoulder surgery and declare for the NFL Draft. But what if he didn’t reinjure himself in October? What if the shoulder held up until the bowl game? That means everything gets pushed back three months. As it was, Bradford didn’t work out in the NFL Combine that year or Oklahoma’s pro-day but did have a personal work out for teams at the end of March. There were two teams that year that was desperate for a QB; one was the team that drafted Bradford, the Rams, the other was the Broncos that moved some picks down in order to take Tebow. Jimmy Claussen, who was thought to go in the first 10 picks slipped all the way to mid-way through the second round. The next quarterback taken? Colt McCoy with the 21st pick of the third round. That’s four QBs in 85 picks. Why? Because NFL teams didn’t need a QB. 2011 was different with all sorts of QBs taken in the first three rounds, mainly because of the lockout. Teams weren’t able to sign free agent QBs, so they drafted them instead.

Which leads me to this year. At minimum six teams this year will be looking for QBs (aside from Colts picking Luck). It has been said over and over in the past few weeks that Barkley will be the second QB selected overall, possibly third to fifth pick overall.

So, here’s the risks if he stays for his senior year at USC – the Trojans aren’t as good as we projected them to be and don’t even make it to the Pac-12 Championship. Barkley doesn’t win the Heisman or worse yet gets injured. Is it worth it?

Andrew Luck returned for a shot at the national championship and the Heisman. We know he won’t have a shot at the one, and we won’t find out about the second for a couple weeks. He has been lucky (no pun intended) to avoid an injury and to have Indianapolis at 0-11. What if the Colts were their normal playoff contention selves? Then the pick (as of right now) would go to St. Louis or Minnesota. It’s highly unlikely that either team would draft a QB first overall. Carolina? Nope. They’re good -at least at the QB position. Jacksonville or Miami would be next.  After the money they paid Gabbert last year on a first round pick, I think it’s safe to say they avoid doing it two years in a row. Which leads to the fifth pick, the Dolphins. There’s a definite difference between draft pick #1 and #5 when it comes to NFL contracts. Luck would be hanging out in South Beach, making sure Lebron foots the bill for the bottle service.

So, there’s Andrew Luck: no national championship, no Heisman (it’s possible, people. Heisman history shows it goes to the best player on one of the best two teams – TRich anyone?), and now no number one pick.

It’s a roll of the dice. As it stands, Luck won’t be affected by staying a year, but that certainly doesn’t mean things will be smooth sailing for Barkley next year. He can look at a former Trojan who was a projected top five pick and decided to stay in LA for his senior year. Leinert didn’t best his 2004 season, didn’t win the Heisman or the National Championship, and slipped to tenth pick in the draft. He gambled away a lot of money with his decision.

That’s where we’re at. Torres told you why he stays, I’ve told you why he leaves. Now we just need Barkley to be the tie-breaker.

You can catch more of Aaron’s insight, analysis and opinions on AaronTorres-sports.com and follow on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

Dory LeBlanc, covers Gator sports for Gators First and BourbonMeyer.com. Not just a college sports enthusiast, Dory is also a fan of NFL, NHL, NBA, and MLB. Born outside Philly, she moved to Tampa, and now resides in Illinois, giving her a broad perspective on the sporting world. You can follow Dory on twitter @DoryLeBlanc