Serving the second year of a two-year postseason ban, No. 5 USC did not participate in a bowl game last month but notched a big victory nonetheless.
In front of a modest crowd of reporters and fans at Heritage Hall on Dec. 22, junior quarterback and Newport Beach, Calif. native Matt Barkley announced he would return to school for his senior season, bypassing the chance to participate in the 2012 NFL draft.
“It is my dream to play [as a] quarterback in the NFL and I intend to make that dream a reality,” Barkley said at the press conference. “But I also know in my heart I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player.”
Throwing for 3,528 yards and 39 touchdown passes in his third season as the Trojans’ starter under center, Barkley was projected to be selected in the first round, possibly even in the top 10. But the chance to potentially earn a BCS National Championship or play in a bowl game for the first time since his freshman season appeared to be too much for Barkley to pass up.
“Our football team has been through some tough times and we have persevered,” Barkley said. “I am not postponing my dream and objective of playing in the NFL so I can just have one more year of college life. I am staying because I want to finish what I started.”
Because of NCAA sanctions levied against the program in June 2010, stemming from the ineligibility of former tailback Reggie Bush during the 2004 and 2005 season, Barkley and his teammates have been unable to participate in postseason play despite compiling 18 wins over the course of the last two seasons. In 2012, however, the Trojans will be able to compete in the Pac-12 championship game and a bowl game.
Also in attendance at the December press conference were USC Athletic Director Pat Haden, USC football coach Lane Kiffin and Barkley’s family, who helped counsel the signal caller throughout his decision-making process.
“This is a special, special college student-athlete story,” Kiffin said. “Matt Barkley decided to come back and get his degree. He decided to come back to start on his master’s program.”
Barkley’s decision came just one day after junior safety T.J. McDonald announced he would also return to school for his season.
McDonald was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2011 and had been projected as a possible second round pick had he decided to declare for the NFL draft.
“We have an opportunity to do something great,” McDonald said in a video released by the school. “That opportunity doesn’t come around very often. I want to finish things out and be a part of something great.”
A second-year starter for the Trojans last season, McDonald finished with 67 tackles and three interceptions, making the Sporting News and Pro Football Weekly All-American first teams. McDonald and his father, Tim, became the first father-son tandem in school history to be named All-Americans. Tim McDonald was an All-American for USC in 1985 and 1986 before a 13-year NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.
In 2010, T.J. McDonald also led the team in tackles with 89.
“We’re obviously very excited about T.J.’s decision to return next year,” Kiffin said in a statement. “He’ll be a leading candidate for the Thorpe Award in 2012 and he has a chance to be a two-time All-American.”
Not every draft-eligible junior however, will return to USC.
Fellow juniors offensive tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry announced their intentions to declare for the NFL draft instead, but the Trojans are still expected to return 17 of 22 starters, including Barkley, who finished sixth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy last season.
Many analysts have suggested that the Trojans will be ranked in the preseason top five when the rankings are released this summer.