To be clear: USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley isn’t going to win the Heisman Trophy on Dec. 10.
There are too many obstacles stacked against him. The odds, quite frankly, are too steep. But that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t win the award.
USC’s lack of postseason eligibility isn’t enough to dampen Barkley’s Heisman Trophy-caliber season. A closer look at the race reveals that no one is more deserving of college football’s highest individual award. Stanford’s Andrew Luck might be the better NFL prospect, but that’s not what the Heisman Trophy honors. The Heisman distinction goes to the “most outstanding” player in college football, and that’s exactly what Barkley has been in 2011.
In comparison to Luck, Barkley’s case only grows stronger. Barkley had more touchdown passes (39 to Luck’s 35) and fewer interceptions (seven to nine) than his Pac-12 counterpart. Luck’s completion percentage was less than 1 percent higher than Barkley’s.
Luck faltered slightly in the final stretch of the season, while Barkley excelled, throwing 20 touchdowns (including two six-score games) during USC’s final five contests. A few weeks ago, it was in doubt whether Barkley would even be a finalist for the Heisman. His strong finish has made it almost a guarantee that he’ll make the trip to New York.
Perhaps even more mind-boggling, in the eight games since a late September loss at Arizona State, Barkley has completed 207 of 297 passes for 2,409 yards, 29 touchdowns and a mere four interceptions.
Though it remains true that Barkley’s Trojans lost to Luck’s Cardinal on Halloween weekend, it took three overtimes and a heartbreaking fumble from redshirt junior tailback Curtis McNeal for a supposedly superior Stanford team to beat Barkley’s boys. The same voters and columnists who tout star wide receivers sophomore Robert Woods and freshman Marqise Lee as evidence that Barkley had more to work with should note the edge in experience and superior running game that allowed Luck to operate much more comfortably.
“None of the other guys around the country have to deal with all these players leaving because of sanctions and probation and all these young guys around them and no bowl game to go to,” USC coach Lane Kiffin pointed out a week ago after USC’s stirring win over Oregon. “[Barkley’s] playing as well as anybody in the country, especially in big games with a very young unit around him.”
The point is both teams knew USC’s offense revolved around Barkley getting the ball to one of two dangerous receivers. In spite of that, the junior from Newport Beach still found a way to play 11 phenomenal games, with a 43-22 loss to the Sun Devils serving as the only real blemish on his résumé. On offense, Lee and redshirt freshman tight end Randall Telfer did not look their age thanks to Barkley’s efficiency and leadership as a passer.
Detractors of Barkley’s chances to win cite the fact that he’ll be “off the radar” during conference championship week, and his candidacy will lose some of its buzz as a result of the Trojans’ postseason ban. But shouldn’t that very bowl ban only strengthen his candidacy? Despite every obstacle, Barkley put together a season, statistically speaking, that was superior to performances from USC’s other two Heisman Trophy-winning quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. And he handled all of it with the poise you’d want out of a college quarterback.
“I know it sounds weird, but I look up to Matt Barkley,” Kiffin said during Saturday’s post-game press conference.