By: Elliott Duncan
Most schools handed sanctions as stiff as USC’s end up going through a rebuilding phase. Back in 2010, it certainly looked like that was the road it was heading down. The NCAA wanted to make an example of USC, and at the time it sure looked like they did. Reducing scholarships, a ban from bowl appearances, and stripping the 2004 National Championship provided other Pac-12 schools with plenty of ammo to run the market on recruits.
Somehow, someway, the Trojans prevailed. Lane Kiffin, previously an offensive coordinator with USC, left his head coaching position at the University of Tennessee to take the same position in Los Angeles. The stellar recruiting class that Carroll put together before leaving was held intact by Kiffin and his relentless staff. The real piece to the puzzle was freshman quarterback Matt Barkley. A highly touted recruit that was raised in Southern California had USC in his plans before he even began his senior year of high school.
Barkley made history with his first snap as a Trojan, becoming the first freshman quarterback to ever start for USC. His freshman year was considered less than average by statistical standards, but he had the poise and intangibles of a future star. Barkley closed out his freshman year with a strong performance in the Emerald Bowl, throwing for 350 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-13 win over Boston College.
In his sophomore year, Matt Barkley was getting reunited with head coach Lane Kiffin, who had previously recruited him while Barkley played in high school. The reunion proved to be valuable for both parties, as Barkley progressed tremendously, improving in all statistical categories across the board. However, the team as a whole seemed to regress, due to lack of experience and injuries on both sides of the ball, finishing the season 8-5. Kiffin and his staff put together an excellent 2011 recruiting class, and the future of the program looked bright.
Matt Barkley entered the 2011 school year facing the enticing opportunity to leave the Trojans, and forego his senior year, by entering the NFL draft. Barkley refused to address the status of his eligibility until the end of the season, keeping the entire college community on their toes. Barkley, along with receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee, shocked the NCAA by forming the most dangerous trio in the country. Curtis McNeal revitalized the runningback position by running for over a thousand yards, and the defense proved to be a hard hitting, stout group of youngsters. USC finished with only two losses and Barkley had by far his best statistical year to date. Although posting better numbers and winning the same amount of games than future number one pick Andrew Luck, Barkley was omitted from the Heisman finalists. USC won the Pac-12 Southern Division without much competition, but because the bowl ban was still in effect it went to the runner up: UCLA, with a record of 6-8 (5-4 Pac12). USC finished the season ranked #5 overall in the AP Poll.
On January 13th, 2012, Matt Barkley made the decision to return to the University of Southern California, citing “unfinished business” as his main reason. The Trojans start their scholarship reductions this season, but that hardly matters for a team stacked at nearly every position. Junior runningback Silas Redd, a transfer from the sanctioned Penn State program, has grasped the starting position and looks to be a major force in the backfield. Robert Woods and Marquise Lee are back to lead the receivers with plenty of depth behind them. The tightends and offensive linemen aren’t anything to scoff at either. Barkley will be surrounded with NFL-caliber talent, which will only boost his production and chances of becoming the Heisman trophy winner. The defense has been slightly plagued by injuries but none of them look season threatening.
Overall the future for Matt Barkley and his Trojans looks incredibly bright. He has improved every season he has played, and the Trojans are finally ready to compete for the championship they’ve been denied since 2010. If Barkley can successfully give USC the National Championship they’ve been denied for nearly a decade – and capture the Heisman trophy in his final season wearing the prestigious Cardinal jersey – he’ll be setting his sights on the number one draft pick come April.