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College football: Trojan all the way through

Senior quarterback chose USC this year over the NFL

Posted: July 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: July 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.

USC quarterback Matt Barkley responds to a question during the Pac-12 football media day on Tuesday in Universal City.

 

UNIVERSAL CITY — USC Trojans senior quarterback Matt Barkley was tugged and pulled in every direction during Pac-12 Media Day at Universal Studios on Tuesday.

Along that path, he was asked at nearly every stop and turn about his return.

One of the nation’s most talented quarterbacks and a likely top-10 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, Barkley decided, instead of seeking fortune and fame to stay one more year at USC.

By staying, he made USC a contender for a national title in its first season back from NCAA probation, he made himself a contender for the Heisman Trophy and on top of that he entered himself into the argument of greatest Trojans quarterback ever.

“My goal for this year is to be the best player for our team to win games,” Barkley said. “All the awards and all that stuff, the championship, if I’m playing at a high quality of football, those things will fall into place.”

USC was picked in the annual Pac-12 preseason poll to win the South Division — and a major reason for that is Barkley.

The Mater Dei graduate passed for 3,528 yards last season with 39 touchdowns to seven interceptions.

With a season like that, Barkley could have walked away from USC as one of its most accomplished quarterbacks ever.

After his freshman season in 2009, in which he quarterbacked the Trojans to a 24-13 Emerald Bowl win over Boston College, the NCAA delivered sanctions that made the Trojans bowl ineligible for the next two seasons.

At that point, Barkley could have transferred.

So, on multiple occasions he’s decided to stick with the program.

“As we went through the process after the season of Matt figuring this out, and once again figuring this out, and as Matt had questions again today, they were about, ‘How did you convince him to stay?’ And I think Matt would be the first to tell you, I didn’t recruit Matt to stay,” said USC head coach Lane Kiffin. “Matt was completely ready for the NFL.

“I assume he would have been a top-five pick, totally ready to go in and be the face of a franchise and be ready to play in the NFL,” Kiffin added. “His situation was different, and I think it was about him wanting to do something special. What some people have written, he may be able to go down as the most historic Trojan ever if we do big things this year.”

Barkley admitted that he rode such an emotional high after USC defeated UCLA 50-0 last Nov. 26 that he was tempted to declare for the NFL Draft.

But he didn’t.

There was still more to accomplish.

Barkley is third all time on the USC passing yardage list at 9,054. If he has a half-decent year, he’ll pass second-place Matt Leinart and first-place Carson Palmer — both Heisman Trophy winners.

He’s also in striking distance to Leinart’s Pac-12 record of 99 touchdown passes.

Barkley has 80.

He said he grew up loving the school.

His father, grandmother and aunt went to USC.

His brother goes there now.

“I love the colors — cardinal and gold — they seem masculine and warrior-like to me,” Barkley said. “I love the winning tradition. I love winning and USC gets that.”

With that deep love of the school, Barkley returned to make something special happen in 2012.

“There’s nothing about USC that I don’t like,” he said. “There’s nothing I would change about coming back. I wanted to be here since I was a little kid. Missing two (bowl) games wouldn’t change that. ... It means a lot to come back for my senior year.”

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