Logically, junior quarterback Matt Barkley’s pending decision is a no-brainer. Even USC coach Lane Kiffin cannot delude himself with the notion that Barkley has anything left to learn at USC under his tutelage.
“I’m probably not supposed to say this but unless he just wants to do it to be a special Trojan, he ain’t coming back,” Kiffin said. “Who’s playing better than Matt in the country? How do you not draft that kid, knowing the player he is and knowing what the kid is?”
Per NFL rules, NCAA student-athletes can declare for the NFL draft three years after graduating from high school.
As a junior, Barkley meets this minimum condition after posting perhaps the greatest single statistical season of any USC quarterback — without the benefit of a Pac-12 championship rematch against Oregon and an additional bowl game to pad his statistics.
“It’s not a deal where he’s going in the late first [round],” Kiffin said. “He’s every bit ready to go to the NFL.”
Before the season, Kiffin indicated that for Barkley to emerge as an elite quarterback, the junior’s final statistical line should feature 30 or more touchdown passes, fewer than 10 interceptions and a minimum 70 percent completion percentage.
Barkley posted a 39-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio while completing 69.1 percent of his passes.
In other words, Barkley shattered Kiffin’s loftiest expectations that were meant mostly to ensure the unquestioned team leader did not become complacent after his successful sophomore campaign.
Entering the season with three new starters on the offensive line and junior Khaled Holmes shifting from guard to center, there was concern as to whether Barkley would have enough time in the pocket to throw before pass rushers bore down on him.
But with his pocket awareness and elusiveness, Barkley was sacked just eight times — a new USC record.
Yet, Barkley, nonetheless, might op to head toward the professional ranks.
“I haven’t given up [on Barkley staying],” Kiffin said. “It’s just going to be a decision … does he want to do something that’s really unique, and he might be the kid to do that. I think 90 percent of kids would not.”
Perhaps the only precedent at USC for an underclassman quarterback as talented and accomplished as Barkley staying for his final year of eligibility is former quarterback Matt Leinart, who stayed for his redshirt senior season in 2005 after winning a BCS National Championship and Heisman Trophy.
Barkley broke Leinart’s single-season school and conference record of 38 passing touchdowns after connecting with sophomore wide receiver Robert Woods for his sixth touchdown during the 50-0 rout of UCLA.
But for all of Leinart’s impressive accolades, Kiffin maintains the comparison between Barkley and Leinart is not all that instructive because Barkley is a better professional prospect than Leinart was at the same stage of their USC careers.
“Whenever people discuss guys staying and losing money, I think you can’t do that,” Kiffin said. “Nobody said Matt Leinart was going in the top-three picks.”
In the summer 2010, Barkley faced the media once news of the sanctions reverberated across the college football landscape, hoping to communicate USC’s intent to persevere. His leadership earned him the distinction of becoming USC’s first sophomore captain. With all he has sacrificed to navigate USC through its draconian sanctions, there is no question that Barkley deserves to make his decision unencumbered by a belief that he owes USC anything.
“I know it sounds weird, but I look up to Matt Barkley,” Kiffin said.