TUCSON, Ariz. — Well, we learned a lot of things Saturday about the Trojans.
Most of them, unfortunately, weren’t so good.
Senior quarterback Matt Barkley threw for 493 yards, a school record. But he threw two interceptions and missed a wide-open Robert Woods down the sideline that might have put the game out of reach for Arizona.
The USC defense? That one that was built to defend the spread? Not so much. They gave up 26 straight points yesterday and couldn’t get off the field at the end of the contest.
Oh, and “Unfinished Business” is officially finished. There will be no national title this year (though I wouldn’t count the Rose Bowl out quite yet).
But there was one positive that came out of yesterday. And it came in the form of sophomore wide receiver Marqise Lee.
Lee caught 16 passes for 345 yards and two touchdowns. Four of those receptions were for 40 or more yards.
Lee took five-yard slants and turned them into 50-yard gains. He looked like the best player in football Saturday. There was no one on that field who could have stopped Lee.
I’ve been wanting to write this column for a long time now; I’ve thought about it since the first game against Hawai’i. So here we go: Marqise Lee is the best player in college football.
This comes with apologies to Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, who is the presumptive favorite to win the Heisman trophy right now, or Manti Te’o, the Notre Dame linebacker who could be the first defensive player to win the sport’s most prestigious award since Charles Woodson. But Lee is the most explosive, most consistent player I have seen in a long time.
USC has had some great receivers in recent years: Mike Williams, Steve Smith, Dwayne Jarrett and even Robert Woods.
But Lee’s ability to get down the field and make plays with the ball in his hands is unparalleled.
To put it in perspective: Lee’s 345 yards were the fifth-most in a single game in college football history. The USC record was 260 yards; he almost had that at the half.
I guess when it comes down to it, the Heisman doesn’t always go to the nation’s best player; it goes to the one with the most hype who comes up clutch in big moments. Robert Griffin III was the perfect example; his last second, game-winning touchdown pass against Oklahoma in 2011 was the iconic moment of the college football season.
Lee has single-handedly kept USC in several games this season. Against Utah, it was his 83-yard reception that sealed the win for the Trojans. Against Stanford, Lee’s playmaking down the field was the lone bright spot in an otherwise atrocious offensive performance by the team.
And then there was Saturday.
Lee was the reason USC’s offense had any sort of success. The running game wasn’t great. Woods wasn’t tearing things up. And when players weren’t dropping passes, they were committing personal fouls.
But Lee caught everything that came his way. Even when a pass was off, it still stuck to his hands. Then, he ran with the ball like there was no one around him.
And remember, it was his 72-yard kickoff return that set the Trojans up for their touchdown in the waning minutes of the ball game.
I don’t think there is a player in college football that means more to his team than Marqise Lee.
With apologies to Barkley, who I have the utmost respect for, Lee makes this team go. When things are stagnant, he is the go-to guy.
And when Lee doesn’t get the ball? Well, that’s what happened against the Wildcats in the second half. The Trojans could only muster 15 more points. In other words, the offense disappears.
I know that one big game from a player doesn’t make a season or mean a player should get postseason accolades. But Lee’s performance in Tucson was a microcosm of everything he has done the entire season: He has put the team on his back and has consistently been the best player on the field at all times, bar none.
Marqise Lee is the best player in college football — and I don’t even think it is particularly close. And if he doesn’t get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony, it will be the biggest travesty since Barkley wasn’t invited in 2011.
So, USC fans, things aren’t looking as good as they could be. And Oregon and Notre Dame, both heavy hitters, loom around the corner.
But with Lee on the squad, there is one thing that Trojan spectators and fans can be assured of: They are watching the best player in college football every time No. 9 steps on the field.
“Goal Line Stand” runs Mondays. If you would like to comment on this story, visit DailyTrojan.com or email Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.