Barkley's best in biggest situation

November, 19, 2011
11/19/11
10:54
PM PT

EUGENE, Ore. -- Matt Barkley said this wasn't the best game of his college career, but it most certainly was his biggest win.

At Autzen Stadium against the No. 4 Oregon Ducks, he completed 26-of-34 attempts, threw for 323 yards and had four touchdowns and just one interception -- on a pass Robert Woods should have caught. He made one bad throw the entire night and several elite ones. And, most importantly, he led the now-surging USC Trojans to a season-defining 38-35 victory.

In arguably the biggest situation he's faced yet in the college sphere, the third-year Trojans quarterback produced one of his best games to date and -- perhaps in vain -- made a case that he should be considered among the rest of the bowl-eligible candidates for the Heisman Trophy come the end of this season.

"I thought Matt was outstanding," Oregon coach Chip Kelly said, adding that he thought Barkley was better than Andrew Luck and better than any of the quarterbacks his Ducks have faced this season. "He always seemed like he had the answer.

"Every time we came back and scored he came right back with an answer."

He did. Oregon got big plays from a number of sources throughout the game -- quarterback Darron Thomas, running backs Kenjon Barner, LaMichael James and De'Anthony Thomas. USC only had Barkley, receiver Marqise Lee and a less-than-full-strength Woods.

Barkley's first half was outstanding, as he staked USC out to a 14-point lead by completing all but three of his 18 passes, including a 59-yard touchdown throw to Lee. And, in a crucial fourth quarter -- a time where Barkley struggled so significantly his first two seasons -- he completed 4-of-5 passes for 57 yards, with his only incompletion the tipped pass off the hands of Woods.

This was a signal-caller at his best. This was a quarterback quarterback-ing his team to a win on the biggest of stages in the toughest of environments.

Yet he said he didn't think he "played that well." He said the feeling he had after the game didn't feel like he had just played the best game among his 32 career starts at the college level.

But he did. And, in the same place where a USC quarterback won himself the Heisman Trophy nine years ago this month, Barkley proved himself to be a viable candidate for the award.

He won't win it -- no way, not with the Trojans ineligible for the postseason and some of the other top candidates likely to play in a conference championship and bowl game. But he deserves to be in the top 5, and it now seems like a legitimate possibility he could do so.

"Look at what Matt's done with a bunch of young people," USC coach Lane Kiffin said following Saturday's game. "I can't imagine those other guys out there putting up numbers with a bunch of young guys around them."

There's some validity in that argument. But then there's also the fact that -- despite their age -- Woods and Lee are much better than Luck's receivers over at Stanford and better than Landry Jones' receivers at Oklahoma now that Ryan Broyles is out for the year.

But forget the Heisman politicking and arguments. Those will have their time in the sun soon. And forget that Barkley might have just played his penultimate game in a USC cardinal-and-gold uniform.

For right now, realize this: Matt Barkley just led his USC Trojans to an upset win over the Oregon Ducks.

And he did it better than he's ever done before.

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