As the USC Trojans prepare for the Hyundai Sun Bowl Monday, news came Thursday that Matt Barkley will miss the game due to a shoulder injury, which means that his college career has officially come to a close.
This is not an unexpected development, as Barkley had not taken part in any of the bowl practices this month and there didn’t seem to be any pressing movement to get him back on the field. Instead, Barkley will spend his final game as a Trojan watching from the sidelines as his team looks to finish a disappointing season on a high note.
Barkley has a sub-header on his Twitter account that reads, “I play quarterback, but that doesn’t define me” and the absence of Barkley from the Sun Bowl game certainly will not define his USC career, nor will the absence of a national title, All-American recognition, or any of the other trappings associated with big-time college football.
When it comes to Barkley, his impact on the Trojan Family, on the entire USC program, simply cannot be measured solely by the results of what happened on the field.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of successes. One doesn’t walk away as the Pac-12 career leader in total offense, passing touchdowns and passing yardage without having played some pretty good football along the way. There were road victories over Ohio State, Notre Dame and Oregon, plus a 50-0 whitewash of UCLA in the 2011 season finale that will long be remembered with a smile by USC fans.
There will be plenty of people who point to what Barkley didn’t accomplish in his time at USC, and that comes with the territory of being an elite player. Barkley came to USC after being ranked as the No. 1 player in the country in high school and he was named the starting quarterback for the Trojans as a true freshman, the first time that had ever happened in school history.
With those kinds of credentials, it’s safe to say the expectations were high, especially after Barkley led the dramatic late victory over the Buckeyes in one of his first starts. But just as things were looking to fall into place, there was a coaching change from Pete Carroll to Lane Kiffin and the dramatic impact of some of the stiffest NCAA penalties in history as a result of the Reggie Bush case.
Suddenly the USC world was in an upheaval, and it was Barkley who took center stage as the face of the program. Calmly and with a smile on his face, Barkley answered every question and assured the world that USC was going to be OK. The best part for Trojans fans was how convincing Barkley was when he said that. As honest as the day is long, Barkley was steadfast in his commitment to USC and that provided a real solid foundation as the Trojans tried to navigate through the uncharted sanction waters.
As we know in hindsight, everything was not OK for USC. The sanctions hit hard, with bowl bans and depth issues, and there was a real possibility that the program was facing several years of dark times. But then a funny thing happened in the middle of the 2011 season, as the Trojans caught fire and became one of the most exciting teams in college football. A group with seemingly nothing to play for who was performing with passion and excitement while being led by Barkley, who seemed to be so in control of it all.
The good feelings culminated late in December, when Barkley gave the Trojan Family the best holiday present it could have wished for with his announcement that he would return for his senior season. The logic he gave for coming back meant a lot to all Trojans as well, as USC had “unfinished business” and he wanted to play a part in it. Every USC fan knew what that statement meant, and it came as no surprise that Barkley felt that way too.
Suddenly, instead of being in NCAA purgatory, the Trojans were once again the talk of college football as the 2012 season opened. Everything was there for the taking for Barkley and his team, from a preseason No. 1 ranking to a clear standing as the Heisman Trophy favorite. After all that he had been through, and with the respect he had earned for the way he handled himself as a representative of the program, it just seemed so right that things would fall Barkley’s way with a Hollywood-type finish to his career.
Well, life isn’t Hollywood and the 2012 season didn’t go as planned for Barkley and the Trojans. But it’s important to recognize that he took his shot. It would have been easy to leave after the 2011 season when his stock was high, but he came back for the chance to finish what he started and the possibility of reaching rare heights. It didn’t happen and, to top it off, he will spend his final game for the Trojans in street clothes, but one won't hear him talk about any regrets as he looks to move forward with preparations for the NFL draft process and a post-USC career.
The memories he leaves at USC are indelible and will not be forgotten. Simply put, he was a class act, and a pretty good quarterback to boot. That’s a good way to define Matt Barkley.