Barkley deep ball supports Heisman hype

August, 16, 2012
8/16/12
3:22
PM ET

Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesUSC quarterback Matt Barkley is on pace to become the school's all-time leader in passing yards, completions, and touchdowns.

Matt Barkley will begin the year for No. 3 Southern California as a front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. Barkley would be the seventh Trojan to win the award (excluding Reggie Bush), tying USC with Notre Dame and Ohio State for most all-time.

His stellar play during the past three seasons has fueled the Heisman speculation heading into his senior year. To date, he has amassed over 9,000 passing yards and 80 touchdowns in 36 career starts (27-9) and is on pace to become USC’s all-time leader in passing yards, touchdowns and completions.

High expectations are nothing new for Barkley as he entered USC in 2009 as the No. 1 player in the ESPN 150. After enrolling early, Barkley won the starting job during spring practice and became the only true freshmen to ever start the season opener for the Trojans.

Barkley also showed as a freshman that he would not shy away from the big stage. In just his second-career start, he led the Trojans on an 86-yard game-winning touchdown drive in the fourth quarter against Ohio State in Columbus. Barkley finished the season with 2,735 yards and 15 touchdowns, the most by a true freshmen in school history.

USC’s starting center Khaled Holmes said of Barkley, the Trojans first ever three-time captain, "Guys recognized not only his skill, but his work ethic, his willingness to learn and his mental strength as well."

It appears that Barkley's work ethic has paid dividends as his completion percentage, passing yards, touchdown-to-interception ratio and passing efficiency have all improved in each of his three seasons. In 2011, Barkley finished with the third-most touchdown passes (39) and had the eighth-highest passing efficiency (161.2) in the FBS.

The area in which Barkley has made the biggest stride is his downfield passing. In 2011, he led the Pac-12 with 13 touchdown passes on throws that traveled 25 yards or more downfield.

That matched the combined total of fellow Pac-12 quarterbacks Andrew Luck (4), Nick Foles (4), and Darron Thomas (5)

The 13 touchdowns were also nine more than Barkley’s combined total from his first two seasons. Most impressively, his interceptions went down while the touchdowns went up. In 49 attempts 25-plus yards downfield, Barkley threw one interception in 2011. He had five such picks in the previous two seasons.

One factor that led to Barkley’s improved downfield passing was the emergence of wide receiver Marqise Lee. Lee provided another quality option for USC so teams could no longer focus solely on containing all-American receiver, Robert Woods.

As a freshman last season, Lee caught eight of Barkley’s 13 touchdowns on throws of 25-plus yards, and he had more receptions on such throws than the rest of the team combined. As a duo, Lee and Woods caught 26 total touchdown passes, including 12 on throws of 25-plus yards. Both receivers are back for the 2012 season.

If Barkley, Lee, and Woods continue to make positive strides in 2012, there’s no telling how far the Trojans can go.

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