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Why Matt Barkley Will Likely Depart To NFL After Oregon Upset

Johnie Freatman |
November 20, 2011 | 3:13 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor

Matt Barkley has guided the Trojans to a 9-2 record this season. (James Santelli/Neon Tommy)
Matt Barkley has guided the Trojans to a 9-2 record this season. (James Santelli/Neon Tommy)
When asked before the season what it would take for him to leave early for the NFL, Matt Barkley made it very clear: "I want to put myself in a position to go out with a bang."

With Saturday's thrilling win over Oregon, Barkley and USC have put an exclamation point on a month-long "bang" loud enough to wake up the echoes of past Trojan greatness, while their star quarterback gave a deafening answer to the one question remaining about him.

Thoughout his career, Barkley has shown an ability to answer all the major questions and criticism directed at him. After a freshman campaign that showed so much promise, many questioned his decision-making and mobility.

Barkley responded in the offseason with a grueling conditioning regimen that made him leaner and faster. Though he may not have the mobility of Robert Griffin, Barkley has turned a perceived weakness into a strength, often scrambling for first downs when no other options are available.

He has also drastically improved his decision-making, no longer forcing balls into windows that don't exist while realizing that simply throwing the ball away can be the best option.

After reducing his interceptions and increasing his completion rate last season, Barkley has taken it a step further this year. With one game remaining, he has half as many interceptions as in his freshman year and is completing two-thirds of his passes.

Of course, with the NFL radar squarely on Barkley, he was presented with another challenge: improve your deep throws.

Matt Barkley to Robert Woods (James Santelli/Neon Tommy)
Matt Barkley to Robert Woods (James Santelli/Neon Tommy)
All he has done is respond by orchestrating one of the most high-flying passing attacks in the nation. Blessed with the necessary personnel in Robert Woods and Marquise Lee, Barkley has utilized his offense's big-play ability, continually putting long throws on the money and shredding secondaries while not losing his accuracy on short passes.

Consider this: Barkley, one who admittedly places very high expectations on himself, began the year with a seemingly challenging goal of throwing for at least 30 touchdowns, less than 10 interceptions, and a 70-percent completion rate.

While he sits at under 68 percent, he already has 33 touchdowns (with only seven interceptions) and still one game remaining to pad his total.

Stanford's Andrew Luck gets all the national attention, but Barkley has thrown for more touchdowns and fewer interceptions.

Of course, even as Barkley continued a historic season for USC, one question remained: could Barkley win the big game?

There had been this perception, backed by numbers, that before this year, he may have been a great starter but was unable to finish games, especially against high-caliber opponents.

Though Barkley had improved greatly on his fourth-quarter play entering Oregon, he was still without a signature win, his second career start against Ohio State notwithstanding.

How fitting then, that against the team that has haunted the Trojans the past two years, a program that some say has taken the conference's proverbial torch from USC, Barkley put together his best performance as a Trojan and won in one of the most hostile environments in college football.

Barkley was absolutely dazzling in putting on display all the aspects of his skillset that were once doubted. He threw a couple of beautiful long passes to Marquis Lee, successfully scrambled when he had to, managed the game well (except for an interception that should have been caught by Woods), and systematically led his team to the 38-35 win.

Matt Barkley (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
Matt Barkley (Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy)
This performance accentuated what separates Barkley from elite high school prospects who underachieve in college: the willingness and ability to adapt and refine one's skills. Instead of being stubborn and trying to get by on raw talent, Barkley has shown a constant desire to be coached and refine his play.

Though USC fans won't want to hear this, this game also crystallized the fact that Barkley has nothing left to prove from an individual standpoint in college. If his "bang" comments are still reflective of his thought process, he will be suiting up for the last time as a Trojan this Saturday against UCLA.

This isn't based on what he should or shouldn't decide but rather on what he likely will decide.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why Matt Barkley shouldn't go pro. In some ways, I still think he shouldn't. However, those are primarily based around the USC program and what it could attain next year with Barkley at the helm, not how an extra year in college would aid him long-term as a quarterback. In fact, as you can be sure Barkley has thought about players like Jake Locker and Matt Leinart who regressed in their final college seasons.

But as to whether he will leave USC, the last month of games have made for a big change. Barkley has overcome all the college questions and criticism and it's time to see if he can do the same in the NFL.

Considering what we've seen so far in The Evolution of Matt Barkley, whatever team drafts him is likely to experience many "bangs" of their own.

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