At the outset of this year, we knew USC quarterback Matt Barkley would have a big decision to make at the end of the season. We knew he'd be staring at a potential high selection in April's NFL draft and weighing that against the possibility of the Trojans making a nice run in 2012.
But we didn't know it was going to be like this, as the stakes involved in Barkley's decision to stay or go have been dramatically raised in the past month-plus.
Now, he has two good choices: (1) Go to the NFL and he's a guaranteed first-rounder, probable top-15 pick and possible top-5 selection, or (2) stay at USC and start the 2012 season in the top five nationally with a chance to break every remaining school career passing record.
So, will he stay, or will he go?
It looks like he's going to go.
The pieces are all in place for his departure. He's said over and over he wanted to end his college career with a "big bang."
It doesn't get much bigger than a 50-0 win over UCLA seven days after a gigantic upset at Oregon.
The reason so many Trojans fans are clamoring to have Barkley back next year -- USC's late-season success -- is the same reason he's so likely to leave. He's boosted his stock so much it would be a bad economic decision to return for a fourth season.
The truth is that while Barkley may say he's 50-50 on deciding and hasn't thought about it yet and all that, he surely has. How can he not have at least broached the topic in his own mind and with his parents at some point over the past three years, or even before?
There's nothing wrong with that whatsoever, but he must have talked about it, must have talked about what would go into his decision when the time came.
And there are strong indications that he'll jump to the NFL. Saturday's win over UCLA had all the makings of a great farewell, from the way USC coach Lane Kiffin kept Barkley in until the very end to the way 39 of the first 49 play calls were passes.
Kiffin must have wanted Barkley to break the single-season passing touchdowns record set by Matt Leinart in 2003. And Barkley did break it, throwing his 39th touchdown of the 2011 season on that 41-yard pass to Robert Woods in the fourth quarter.
One side story: Leinart broke that record in his first season starting at USC, as a redshirt sophomore. He could have left for the draft after that season, but he chose not to, obviously, then chose to return the following year when he was thought of as a likely top-five pick.
That decision -- and Leinart's subsequent failures in the league -- is often cited as a reason that players should leave for the NFL when they're projected to go high in the draft, especially quarterbacks.
But Kiffin rebutted that in his postgame news conference Saturday, saying nobody ever flat-out said Leinart was going to go so high in the draft as a junior after the 2004 season. If people had, Kiffin implied, it would make more sense for him to leave.
Kiffin did those honors for Barkley in his news conference. Praising the quarterback for his resolve to stick with the Trojans through adversity, Kiffin said Barkley is guaranteed to go that high.
"He's going in the top five," he said.
Well, to do that, Barkley has to first declare himself eligible for the draft.
But that'll happen soon enough.