Stats & Info: matt barkley

Foles fits best in Chip Kelly's new offense

July, 30, 2013

US PresswireWhich quarterback in the best fit for the Eagles offense in 2013?
As the Philadelphia Eagles open training camp, Chip Kelly has not settled on his starting quarterback. Michael Vick’s experience and Matt Barkley’s college hype make for enticing choices, but the numbers say Nick Foles is the best fit for Kelly’s offense.

With Kelly at the helm, Oregon thrived on sustaining drives with short throws. Of 373 Oregon pass attempts last season, 243 – nearly two-thirds of all attempts – traveled less than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage.

During Kelly’s tenure at Oregon from 2009 to 2012, no team had a higher passer efficiency on third and short (five yards or fewer) than the Ducks (198.2).

Kelly also taught his quarterbacks to avoid turnovers. From 2009-12, the only BCS schools with a lower interception per attempt rate than Oregon’s 2.1 percent were Alabama (1.5) and West Virginia (1.9).

With those quarterback trends in mind, here’s why Foles is the Eagles’ best fit in 2013:

• Last season, Foles was more accurate than Vick on throws 10 yards or fewer, completing 67 percent of such passes to Vick’s 62 percent. On short throws, Vick was off target on 13 percent of his passes compared with Foles’ 11 percent.

• Foles’ completion rate on third down (58.2 percent) narrowly topped Vick’s (57.3 percent), but Vick was off target on third down much more often than Foles was last season.

• Foles took care of the ball more effectively than Vick did last season. Vick threw an interception every 35 pass attempts. Foles averaged an interception every 53 pass attempts last season, tied with Peyton Manning for sixth best among qualified quarterbacks.

As for Barkley, he notched a completion percentage of 75 percent on passes 10 yards or fewer, while completing 60 percent of third-down attempts during his career at USC.

But Barkley’s ability to protect the ball as a rookie will be a major concern. Barkley recorded an interception every 26 throws during his senior season, ranking 118th in FBS. That was a significant drop-off from his junior year campaign, when he ranked 18th in interception rate among qualified QBs.

A strong camp would improve Barkley’s chances, but the quarterback battle will likely come down to Foles and Vick.

Although Foles’ numbers might not approach elite levels, his efficiency in the short passing game and ability to prevent turnovers offer Chip Kelly and the Eagles the best chance to win this season.

Rookies fill needs for Jets, Eagles, Chargers

May, 10, 2013
Rookie minicamps start on Friday for three teams that missed the playoffs in 2012: San Diego Chargers, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets.

It’ll be the first look at two of the more high-profile quarterbacks from this year’s draft class, Geno Smith and Matt Barkley, but there are other storylines worth keeping an eye on.

The Chargers are one team that does not have a question at quarterback. Philip Rivers has started every game in San Diego since the start of 2006.

However, Rivers was sacked a franchise-record 49 times in 2012. That’s one reason the Chargers selected OT D.J. Fluker in the first round. It marks the first time the Bolts drafted an offensive lineman in the first round since taking James Fitzpatrick in 1986. From 1987-2012, San Diego was the only team that did not draft an offensive lineman in the first round.

Protecting Rivers isn’t the only reason the Chargers drafted Fluker. In 2012, San Diego was tied with the Detroit Lions for the fewest 20-yard runs. The Chargers also were one of two teams that averaged less than 2.0 yards per rush before contact.

In the second round the Chargers traded up to draft Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o. The 2012 Heisman Trophy runner-up intercepted seven passes in 13 games, the most by a linebacker since 2006.

The Eagles drafted offensive players with their first two picks (OT Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz). In Andy Reid’s 14 seasons with the Eagles, they drafted offensive players with their first two picks only once (2009, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy).

In 2012, the Eagles used nine different starters on the offensive line, tied for fourth-most in the NFL. That inconsistency on the offensive line is one reason the Eagles allowed the most quarterback pressures (239) last season.

Only one offensive lineman, left guard Evan Mathis, start all 16 games last season for the Eagles.

With Michael Vick a free agent after next season, the Eagles drafted QB Matt Barkley in the fourth round. Barkley was the third QB selected by the Eagles in the first four rounds of the last four drafts (Nick Foles in 2012, Mike Kafka in 2010).

Two areas where Barkley excelled at USC were passing against the blitz and deep passes. Both are areas that Philadelphia’s quarterbacks struggled in last season.

The Jets have not been stellar at the quarterback position over the last few years. Mark Sanchez has the lowest Total QBR in the NFL since 2009.

In the second round, the Jets drafted Geno Smith out of West Virginia to compete with Sanchez and newcomer David Garrard for the starting QB job. Smith is the fourth QB the Jets have drafted in the second round in the Common Draft Era (since 1967). The first three went a combined 12-29 in starts with the Jets.

At West Virginia, Smith relied on screens (34.2 percent of his passes were at or behind the line of scrimmage in 2012) and shotgun passing (over 96 percent of his passes out of shotgun during his college career). The Jets were one of the league’s worst teams on screen passes last year.

The Jets offense ranked among the bottom five in the league in points, yards and turnovers last season. They’re hoping that Smith can help drastically improve their offense in the future.

Why Bills drafted EJ Manuel in first round

April, 29, 2013

Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesEJ Manuel's accuracy, both in and out of the pocket, is just one reason the Bills drafted him.
The biggest surprise of the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft may have been the Buffalo Bills trading back and selecting Florida State QB EJ Manuel with the 16th-overall pick.

According to Scouts Inc., Manuel was the sixth-ranked quarterback entering the draft, which begs the question:

What did the Bills see in him?

Bills’ general manager Buddy Nix and head coach Doug Marrone conducted a post-draft interview and defended their pick, pointing to Manuel’s tremendous upside and athleticism.

When asked to size up Manuel’s best attributes, Marrone stated:

“Well I think you could start listing many things. He can throw the football vertically down the field, he has a good arm, he can get himself out of trouble, he can create things with his feet, he has good presence in the huddle, he’s accurate and we are excited to have him.”

Let's break that quote down to show you what Marrone was looking at.

He can throw the football vertically down the field
Manuel improved his completion percentage on passes of 20 yards or longer in his junior and senior seasons. In 2012, Manuel completed 49.2 percent of his passes of 20 yards or longer, the highest completion percentage of any of Scouts Inc.’s top six quarterback prospects.

He can get himself out of trouble
In 2012, Manuel completed 55.8 percent of his passes when under duress, a higher completion percentage than Geno Smith (49.3), Matt Barkley (49.3) and Landry Jones (37.1).

Marrone pointed to Manuel’s ability to keep his eyes downfield when flushed out of the pocket. In the past three seasons, Manuel actually was more accurate when outside the pocket than inside it.

When forced out of the pocket, Manuel completed 60 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

He can create things with his feet
In addition to passing on the move, Manuel scrambled for first downs when he chose to. In 2012, Manuel scrambled for 199 yards and 10 first downs on 28 scrambles, averaging 7.1 yards per scramble. On third downs, Manuel scrambled for six first downs and averaged 7.7 yards per scramble.

He also rushed for 208 yards on designed running plays, including six rushes for 45 yards on zone-read options. Comparatively, Geno Smith gained 27 yards on designed rushes in 2012.

Good presence in the huddle
There is no statistical measure of leadership, but Marrone pointed to Manuel’s superior record as a starter.

Manuel led the Seminoles to a 25-6 record as a starter, including four straight bowl wins. No other top QB prospect had a better win percentage as a college starter than Manuel.

He’s accurate
Manuel completed more than two-thirds of the passes he threw in his career.

In his last three seasons, 81 percent of his passes were on target (passes that were not overthrown, underthrown or wide of his receiver), comparable numbers to Smith (83.4) and Barkley (80.3).

Don't discount Matt Barkley on deep throws

March, 27, 2013

Jonathan Moore/Getty ImagesHe doesn't have the strongest arm, but Matt Barkley has similar numbers to Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III when it comes downfield throws.
USC Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley was a projected top-5 pick if he had entered the 2012 NFL draft. The third-ranked QB in the 2012 draft class behind Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, Barkley decided to return for his senior season.

There are several reasons Barkley’s draft stock has supposedly dropped: arm strength, lack of athleticism, struggles when pressured. However, what do the numbers say about these perceived deficiencies?

Arm Strength
Since the start of the 2011 season, Barkley threw 24 touchdowns and only two interceptions on passes 20 yards or longer (in 120 attempts). When Barkley missed his receivers on those deep passes, he was four times more likely to overthrow his target than underthrow.

In fact, Barkley put up comparable numbers to what Luck and Griffin III did on passes of 20 yards or longer in their final two seasons.

And, Barkley’s completion percentage actually improved on throws of this distance from 2011 (39.7 percent) to 2012 (42.3).

Barkley may not be able to outrun defenders, but he has shown the ability to throw on the move. When outside the pocket, Barkley completed more than 65 percent of his passes with 23 touchdowns -- including 16 touchdowns on designed roll outs -- and just three interceptions.

Passing Under Pressure
Scouts have pointed to Barkley’s struggles with pressure in his face. The numbers show that Barkley consistently has been able to read defenses and hit his hot read when opponents send extra pass rushers. Barkley threw 44 touchdowns and just six interceptions when opposing defenses blitzed.

Additionally, Stats & Information’s video tracking data has Barkley completing 41.3 percent of his passes when under duress in 2012, slightly above the average for all quarterbacks tracked (40.5 percent).

Even Barkley admits he tried to do too much in 2012, but USC’s offensive struggles went well beyond its quarterback play.

The Trojans offensive line struggled after the departure of left tackle Matt Kalil to the NFL and the injury to center Khalid Holmes early in the season. Barkley was sacked six more times in 2012 (14) than 2011 despite playing one fewer game.

USC’s receivers dropped 27 balls in 2012, including eight on passes of 20 yards or longer. In 2011, USC had just 14 drops, four of which were on deep throws.

Also, USC’s running game struggled to gain first downs in key running situations, converting a first down on 11 of 21 third down rushes with two yards or fewer to go. The Trojans’ 52.4 third-down conversion percentage in those situations ranked 103rd in FBS.

USC averaged 7.6 rushes per touchdown in the red zone -- only six FBS teams had a lower red-zone rushing touchdown percentage last season.

Notre Dame concedes very little on defense

November, 23, 2012
Matthew EmmonsWith one more win, Manti Te'o (right) and Notre Dame will play for the right to be No. 1.
(USC hosts Notre Dame on Saturday at 8 ET on ABC.)

If the Notre Dame Fighting Irish can win on the road against the USC Trojans. History could, again, repeat itself.

Four different head coaches have been responsible for Notre Dame's eight national championships in the AP poll era (since 1936). All four captured their first national title in their third season at Notre Dame, and head coach Brian Kelly is in his third season at the helm in South Bend.

Notre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS Title thanks in larger part to its defense. The Irish have conceded a touchdown on 6.7 percent of their opponents’ possessions, the lowest percentage in FBS this season.

Notre Dame’s red-zone defense also is the best in the nation, allowing a touchdown on 24.1 percent of their opponents’ drives inside the 20-yard line. (Opponents have seven touchdowns and five turnovers in 29 red-zone possessions.) That’s the lowest percentage for any FBS team in the last eight seasons.

The defense is led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o. With two more tackles, Te’o will join Bob Crable as the second Notre Dame player with three 100-tackle seasons. Te’o also leads the Irish with six interceptions after not having any in his first three seasons.

Notre Dame’s defense will be tested one more time, this time by one of the best wide receivers in the country. USC’s Marqise Lee has more receiving yards (821) in his last four games than 52 FBS teams during that time span. Lee has gained more yards after the catch (837) than any player from any BCS-AQ school, and leads FBS with eight 100-yard receiving games. However, only one player this season has 100 yards receiving against Notre Dame, Jalen Saunders from Oklahoma.

However, Lee will not have Matt Barkley throwing to him – the senior QB will not play because of a sprained shoulder. Since 2002, USC’s only loss to Notre Dame came in 2010 when Barkley (then a sophomore) had a sprained ankle and did not play.

Without Barkley, USC may turn to its running game. The Trojans are averaging 160 rushing yards per game, and has gained 10 yards or more on almost 17 percent of their rush attempts. Curtis McNeal has 324 yards in USC’s last two games, but he’ll face a Notre Dame defense that has allowed just three running backs to rush for 80 or more yards this season.

USC has history of handing ND first loss

November, 20, 2012
Kirby Lee/US PresswireNotre Dame is one win from playing for the BCS championship for the first time.
Saturday will be the 84th meeting between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans and the 21st time that the Fighting Irish will enter the game undefeated, but the first time since 1993.

Which raises the question: How many times has USC ended a Notre Dame unbeaten season?

Six times, with four of those wins coming in Los Angeles, when the game was the finale on Notre Dame's regular-season schedule. Twice the Irish were ranked No. 1 and once No. 2. The last time came in 1980, Dan Devine’s final year as Notre Dame head coach. In 1980, USC was ranked 17th with a roster that included Ronnie Lott and a future Heisman Trophy winner, Marcus Allen.

Unranked USC beating No. 1 Notre Dame
Only once has a No. 1-ranked Notre Dame team played USC when it was unranked. The result was an agonizing one for the Fighting Irish.

In 1964, Ara Parseghian’s first year as head coach, the Irish were 9-0 with one game left on the schedule: a game against the 6-3 Trojans, a team with losses at Michigan State and Ohio State and at home to Washington.

Notre Dame was led by the 1964 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback John Huarte, a Los Angeles native who went to Mater Dei High School. That school will be eagerly watching this week’s game because it's the alma mater of current USC quarterbacks Matt Barkley and Max Wittek, not to mention 2004 Heisman winner and former USC quarterback Matt Leinart.

Notre Dame had a 17-0 halftime lead, but the Trojans mounted a comeback to win 20-17 on a pass from Craig Fertig to Rod Sherman with 1:35 to play. A possible national title in Parseghian’s first season was dashed. Notre Dame fell to No. 3 in the poll, and the Alabama Crimson Tide went on to win the national title.

Top-ranked in this rivalry
Notre Dame has been the country’s top-ranked team heading into this game seven times, going 5-2. In five of those games, USC was also a top-10 team.

The shoe has been on the other foot, too. USC has been ranked No. 1 against Notre Dame five times, and the Trojans are a perfect 5-0 in those meetings. That includes the famous 2005 “Bush Push” game.

Has there ever been a No. 1 vs. No. 2 in this rivalry? Just once. Lou Holtz and his No. 1 Notre Dame team beat No. 2 USC 27-10 in 1988 in Los Angeles. The Irish went on to beat West Virginia in the Fiesta Bowl to claim the national championship.

Stanford blitz baffles Barkley in upset

September, 18, 2012
Kyle Terada/US PresswireMatt Barkley fell to 0-4 in his career vs Stanford Saturday after failing to throw a touchdown.
Saturday’s slate of college football was highlighted by an upset in the Pac-12, as the 21st-ranked Stanford Cardinal defeated the No. 2 USC Trojans, 21-14. USC quarterback Matt Barkley's struggles against Stanford continued, as he fell to 0-4 in his career against the school (17-6 against the rest of the Pac-12).

What’s more, Barkley failed to throw for a touchdown for the first time in his last 16 games.

The key was the pressure sent against Barkley. Stanford brought five or more pass rushers on 18 of Barkley’s 45 dropbacks Saturday, and he completed half of his throws for 119 yards and an interception against the Cardinal blitz. Entering Saturday, Barkley had not thrown an interception against five or more pass rushers since Week 4 of last season (119 consecutive pass attempts without an interception).

Barkley struggled most on third down, failing to collect a first down in five attempts against Stanford’s blitz. Overall on third downs against the Cardinal, Barkley went just 3-of-10, including an interception.

Barkley was also under duress on 11 of his 41 pass attempts Saturday, but the pressure generated by Stanford early in the game impacted Barkley most when he actually had time to throw. Barkley was 17-of-30 with both of his interceptions coming when not under duress. In addition, nine of those incompletions were on off-target throws.

When receptions were made, USC struggled to get down the field immediately after the catch. The Trojans gained 114 yards after the catch on Saturday, their fewest yards after the catch since losing to Arizona State in Week 4 of 2011. Since the start of last season, the Trojans had gained more than 114 yards after the catch in 13 of 14 games before Saturday.

USC hosts the California Golden Bears Saturday, and if the past two seasons are any indication, Barkley should regain some Heisman momentum this weekend. In his last two meetings against the school, Barkley has seven touchdown throws and no interceptions.

Why teams should not blitz Matt Barkley (and other Week 3 notes)

September, 13, 2012
1. Matt Barkley has thrown 119 consecutive passes against five or more pass-rushers without an interception -- a streak that dates to Sept. 24 of last season. During that time, Barkley has thrown 18 touchdowns when opponents blitz, including four games with at least three touchdown passes. The first of those four games was against Stanford last year in Week 7, Barkley's second career three-touchdown game against the Cardinal blitz. Overall, Barkley has thrown 37 touchdowns and three interceptions against blitzes since the start of his sophomore season.

2. UL Monroe faces Auburn on Saturday after pulling off a stunning upset of Arkansas last week. In the process, the Warhawks can achieve something that hasn't been done in 24 years. The last team not currently in a BCS-AQ conference to beat SEC opponents in consecutive games was Tulane in 1988. In 1988, the Green Wave beat Ole Miss on Nov. 5 and then knocked off Mississippi State. Memphis pulled off a similar feat just a few weeks earlier in 1988, beating Mississippi State and Florida in consecutive games.

3. Alabama begins its SEC slate this week at Arkansas. On the field, Alabama has won 20 straight SEC openers, with its last loss coming in 1991 to Florida. (Note: Some of those games have since been vacated or forfeited.) How impressive is that? Not only is it the longest current win streak in conference openers, but it beats the next highest by eight. Boise State has won 12 straight conference openers dating to 2000, accomplishing that in three different conferences. The Broncos open their 2012 conference schedule on Sept. 29 at New Mexico.

4. Last week against Air Force, Denard Robinson had more total yards (426) than the entire Michigan team (422). One big reason for this was Robinson’s 218 rushing yards. The remainder of the team had minus-4. While this seems like it would be a rarity, it isn’t. In fact, he wasn’t even the only player to accomplish this last week (Temple’s Chris Coyer). Since 2004, it’s happened 25 times, and the only player to do it twice over that stretch? Indiana’s Kellen Lewis in 2007.

5. Michigan State soared into the AP Top 10 this week, and that could be bad news for its opponent this week. Notre Dame has lost nine straight games against AP Top 10 teams by an average of more than 15 points per game. The last time the Fighting Irish beat a team in the top 10 was 2005, when they knocked off No. 3 Michigan. The nine-game losing streak is the longest in Notre Dame history. The previous longest was seven games spanning 1984-86.

Matt Barkley making most of short throws

September, 11, 2012
In order to win a Heisman Trophy, candidates must find a way to separate themselves from the competition. One amazing performance can vault a player into the national spotlight, and one bad game can end a player’s Heisman aspirations.

In Week 2, there were several outstanding performances by potential Heisman Trophy candidates, led once again by USC’s senior quarterback.

Matt Barkley had 187 yards passing and threw a school-record six touchdowns in USC’s 42-29 victory over Syracuse.

Barkley became the first FBS quarterback in the last 12 seasons to throw at least six touchdown passes with less than 200 yards passing in a game. Barkley has 20 touchdown passes in his last four games, six more than any other player in FBS during that span. He kept his passes short in a stormy MetLife Stadium, averaging a career-low 3.7 air yards per attempt. USC’s receivers turned these short passes into big gains with 137 yards coming after the catch -- the 10th straight game that the Trojans gained 100 yards after the catch.

With his play the first two weeks of this season, UCLA running back Johnathan Franklin has vaulted himself into the Heisman discussion.

Franklin had 217 rushing yards on 26 attempts in the Bruins’ 36-30 upset of Nebraska. It was his second consecutive 200-yard rushing game and third of his career. Franklin’s 215.5 rushing yards per game leads FBS this season. In fact, he’s averaging more than 90 teams. Franklin leads FBS with six runs that gained 20 yards or more, and is one of two players with two touchdown runs of at least 60 yards.

Ohio State’s Braxton Miller accounted for a career-high four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing) and 296 yards in Ohio State’s 31-16 win against UCF. Miller gained 141 yards on the ground, his second-straight 100-yard game and seventh of his career. Only Terrelle Pryor has more 100-yard games rushing than Miller among Ohio State quarterbacks. Miller gained a career-high 106 rushing yards inside the tackles, including two touchdowns. After averaging 4.6 yards per rush between the tackles last season, Miller is averaging 7.2 yards in 2012.

After being kept in check by Alabama, Denard Robinson was back to making plays with his arm and his legs.

In Michigan’s 31-25 win over Air Force, he completed 14-of-25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, he had 20 carries for 218 yards and two more touchdowns. It was his third career game with at least 200 rushing yards and at least 200 passing yards, the most among all FBS players since 2000. Robinson gained 211 of his 218 rushing yards on 19 designed-running plays. During Michigan’s Week 1 loss to Alabama, the Wolverines called only six designed-running plays for Robinson, who gained 25 yards.

SEC title run tops 2012 storylines

August, 25, 2012

Derick E. Hingle/US PresswireA school from the SEC has won a record six consecutive BCS National Championships.

We’re less than a week away from the first college football Saturday of the season and there are certainly a lot of compelling storylines heading into the year. Among them is the question of whether or not the SEC can continue its run of dominance.

The SEC has won six straight and eight of the 14 BCS National Championships since the format was implemented prior to the 1998 season. During that span, no other conference has won more than two titles and the six consecutive championships are the most by any conference in college football history.

The SEC will have a good chance to extend its run in 2012 if the Preseason AP Poll is any indication. In all, six SEC teams were ranked in the Top 25 (T-most among all conferences) including five in the Top 10.

Off the field, the conference added new members for the first time since 1992 and both Missouri and Texas A&M will be tested against ranked opponents in their conference debuts. In Week 2, Texas A&M hosts No. 23 Florida (3:30 ET, ESPN) and Mizzou hosts No. 6 Georgia (7:45 ET, ESPN 2).

Across the country, the USC Trojans have completed their two-year bowl ban and enter the season ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll. Recent history is working against them (No preseason No. 1 has finished the year atop the poll since the 2004 Trojans), but they hope to become the first school since Oklahoma in 1975 to win a national championship in its first season following a bowl ban.

If the Trojans do win it all, it will likely be thanks to the play of Heisman contender, Matt Barkley. Barkley enters the season with 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.

Like Barkley, Wisconsin's Montee Ball comes into the year with Heisman aspirations after a tremendous 2011 season. Ball’s 33 rushing touchdowns were the second most in a single season in FBS history and his 39 total touchdowns tied the FBS record set by Barry Sanders in 1988. He also set the FBS single season record with two or more scores in each of his first 13 games of the season.

At South Carolina, Marcus Lattimore is another running back garnering Heisman hype. Lattimore scored 11 touchdowns and had rushed for over 800 yards in seven games before suffering a season-ending knee injury against Mississippi State on October 15.

All three are certainly worthy of the praise, but perhaps the 2012 Heisman winner is not among the preseason favorites.

Over the last five years, winners of the trophy have included three sophomores (Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Mark Ingram), three first-year starters (Tebow, Ingram, Cam Newton), a pair of QBs with three regular-season losses (Tebow, Robert Griffin III) and a player from a program with very little winning tradition (Griffin III). Will another unknown crash the party in 2012?

Top 3 keys: Two-way, big-play dominance

August, 18, 2012

U.S. Presswire/Jayne Kamin-OnceaMatt Barkley is trying to point his team through a season in which it starts and finishes No. 1.

With the AP preseason Top 25 poll out, let’s take a closer look at the top three teams and some key stories to watch as the season approaches.

1. USC
USC will try to become the first AP preseason No. 1 to finish the year ranked No. 1 since it did so in 2004.

What are some of the key things to watch from the team in 2012?

Notable storyline: Barkley’s deep-ball dominance
Quarterback Matt Barkley threw more touchdowns (13) on throws of 20-plus yards last season than he did in the last two seasons combined (4).

Barkley did not have one interception on 49 attempts of this distance, after having five in the previous two years.

Notable storyline: Marqise Lee’s role
Robert Woods was targeted 64 more times than Marqise Lee in USC’s first eight games of 2011 (101 for Woods vs 37 for Lee). But Woods was banged up at the end of the season, which has allowed Lee to emerge as a viable second option for the Trojans going forward into next season.

In the last five games, the ratio of Woods targets to Lee targets was 63-to-58. Lee actually finished with seven more catches (46) and four times as many 20-yard catches (12) than Woods.

Notable storyline: Potential defensive weakness
Over the last two seasons, USC has allowed 389 plays that gained 10 yards or more, including 190 plays on first down.

Only, Memphis allowed a higher percentage of plays to gain 10-plus yards on first down than USC in that span.

2. Alabama
Defending champ Alabama is ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll for the second straight season and is a top-two preseason team for the third straight year, the first time it has done that since the three-year run spanning 1978 to 1980.

What is a notable statistical storyline to watch heading into its season?

Notable storyline: McCarron vs the Blitz
Quarterback A.J. McCarron completed at least 60 percent of his passes when opponents sent five or more pass rushers on a play in seven of his last eight games, including the BCS Championship Game.

Before that stretch, McCarron had never accomplished this feat in any game during his career.

The improvement in his completion percentage against the blitz from his first five games to his last eight games was stark (33 percent to 69 percent) as was the number of 20-yard plays he generated (two in the first five games, 10 in the last eight).

3. LSU

LSU, in the news after the recent departure of its top returnee, still ranked No. 3 in the preseason poll. The database maintained by noted that this is the 48th straight poll appearance for LSU, a streak that now stands as the third-longest in school history, surpassing a 47-week run from 1971 to 1974.

Notable storyline: Replacing a secondary that was second to none
Replicating the success of 2011 will not be easy after the team lost three of their top four defensive backs: Morris Claiborne, Tyrann Mathieu and Brandon Taylor.

LSU opponents completed only 16 percent of passes on throws of 20 yards or longer this season. They were a combined 10-for-61 with nine interceptions, including 5-for-34 with seven interceptions in SEC play.

Sharon Katz contributed research to this piece

Barkley deep ball supports Heisman hype

August, 16, 2012

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.

How Redd fills gaps in USC’s offense

July, 31, 2012

US Presswire
Former Penn State running back Silas Redd will be a great fit at USC.
Silas Redd has decided to transfer to USC, forgoing his junior and senior seasons at Penn State in hopes of winning a national title with the Trojans.

Redd will join an already stacked USC offense. Last season, the Trojans were the only team in FBS with a 3,500-yard passer in Matt Barkley, two 1,000-yard receivers in Robert Woods and Marqise Lee and a 1,000-yard rusher in Curtis McNeal. All four players are returning next season, along with four of USC’s five offensive line starters from a season ago.

Despite returning nine offensive starters, the Trojans had one glaring hole entering 2012: depth at running back. USC returns Curtis McNeal, who averaged an astonishing 6.9 yards per attempt last season, but after McNeal only D.J. Morgan has any career carries (42 rush attempts).

While USC may have had one of the most prolific passing attacks in the nation last season, its running game was far from efficient. The Trojans ran for 12 touchdowns in 392 attempts, the second lowest touchdown percentage in the Pac-12 and the 96th lowest rate in the nation.

USC struggled most in the red zone, rushing for the fewest touchdowns (8) in the Pac-12, while losing a Pac-12 worst five fumbles inside of the 20. Curtis McNeal averaged 2.9 yards per attempt in the red zone and scored just two touchdowns in 79 attempts.

Silas Redd, who averaged 3.8 yards per attempt and scored seven red-zone touchdowns, should bolster a red zone rushing attack that ranked tied for 115th in FBS in red zone touchdown percentage (13.3 pct).

Redd’s receiving skills should also help Matt Barkley and the passing game. Over the last three seasons, USC averaged 56.7 pass attempts to its running backs per season. Yet returning USC running backs have only been targeted five times resulting in three catches in their careers. Silas Redd caught 13 passes in a limited passing offense at Penn State, adding depth to USC’s receiving corps.

The threat of Redd and McNeal in the backfield will only help Matt Barkley.

Barkley’s completion percentage jumped over 10 percentage points after a play-action fake last season, and he averages close to two more yards per attempt after first faking the run in his career.

As one of two teams with two 1,000-yard rushers from last season, USC’s new backfield of Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd may turn a perceived weakness into a strength heading into 2012.

McNeal and Redd may prove to be the best USC tandem since Reggie Bush and LenDale White combined for 3,042 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2005, as together they solidify USC’s red-zone rushing and bolster an already strong passing game.

High expectations for USC, passing attack

April, 10, 2012
Kirby Lee/US PresswireMatt Barkley is back to direct one of the most potent passing attacks in USC Trojans history.
Coming off of a two-year postseason ban, the USC Trojans plan to make their presence felt nationally this season. Matt Barkley and several other offensive skill players are back for a team that went 10-2 and averaged 36 points per game last season.

This is the first time since 2005 that USC has had its top passer, top rusher, and top two receivers return from the previous season. That team was coming off an undefeated season and national championship, and would run the table before falling to the Texas Longhorns in the final moments of the BCS Championship Game in Pasadena.

Aside from having the most prolific weapon in college football that season in Reggie Bush, USC's returning offensive group could be even more explosive in 2012 -- especially Matt Barkley and the Trojan passing assault.

Barkley's numbers from 2011 were better across the board than Matt Leinart's were when he won the Heisman Trophy in 2004. Barkley threw for more yards and touchdowns while completing a higher percentage of his passes in 2011 than Leinart did in 2004.

What's particularly scary for Pac-12 defenses is that Barkley has improved from year to year. His touchdowns have gone up and interceptions have dropped every year at USC, while Leinart's numbers were relatively unchanged during his three seasons leading the Trojans.

Barkley’s biggest improvement last year came when throwing the ball deep. He increased his completion percentage on passes 15-or-more yards downfield by 10 percent and didn’t throw an interception when throwing deep.

While Leinart often deferred to Reggie Bush and Lendale White in the red zone in 2005 (40 combined rushing TDs in 2005), the strength of the 2012 team lies with Barkley and his two favorite targets on the outside, Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

The 2011 season marked the fourth time that a pair of USC receivers each eclipsed 1,000 yards, as Woods and Lee combined for 2,435 yards and 26 touchdowns. USC gained more yards from Barkley passing to Woods and Lee than 38 FBS teams had through the air for the season.

Woods and Barkley already hold several school and conference records. If they each replicate their success in 2012, even more records will fall.

Assuming a repeat performance of his 2011 statistics, Woods would be the Pac-12 career leader in receptions and would be tied for second in career touchdown receptions, all in three seasons. Barkley would be the eighth FBS quarterback to throw for more than 115 touchdowns in his career, and would be the Pac-12 career leader in passing yards and touchdowns.

Though setting records would be nice for these two players, the entire team has made it clear that there is a singular goal for the Men of Troy -- a BCS Championship.

Sharon Katz contributed to this post

US Presswire
Quarterback Matt Barkley smiles at the end of USC's 50-0 win over UCLA last season.

Other quarterbacks have chosen to stay in school when they stood to be prominent NFL Draft picks, as quarterback Matt Barkley has done at USC.

Let's take a statistical snapshot of recent examples to forgo the NFL Draft for one more year in the college ranks.

Peyton Manning, Tennessee
Manning still ended up as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft after returning to Tennessee for his senior season in 1997.

The Vols won the SEC Championship, beating Auburn, 30-29 before losing to Nebraska, 42-17 in the Orange Bowl. They finished No. 7 in the final AP poll.

Matt Leinart, USC

After winning a national title as a junior, Leinart returned for a memorable campaign in 2005, but one that floundered on a couple fronts.

A year after winning the Heisman Trophy, Leinart finished third in the balloting. His Trojans fell short of a second straight undefeated season and national championship, losing to Texas and quarterback Vince Young in a classic game.

Leinart ended up being selected 10th by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2006 NFL Draft and has not yet flourished at the level he did in college.

Sam Bradford, Oklahoma

After winning the Heisman Trophy and losing the national championship game to a Tim Tebow-led Florida team, Bradford returned for his junior year at Oklahoma. It did not go as planned.
Bradford suffered a shoulder injury in the Sooners first game of the season, then re-injured his shoulder upon returning to face Texas.

Bradford sat out the remainder of the season, then declared for the NFL Draft. He was taken by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 1 pick, and he has thrown for 24 touchdowns and 21 interceptions in two NFL seasons.

Andrew Luck, Stanford
Luck tested his luck by staying in school for his senior season in 2011, and the decision worked out well.

The Cardinal went 11-2 in Luck’s senior season, finishing No. 7 in the national rankings after a 41-38 loss to Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl.

Luck is expected to be taken No. 1 in this year’s NFL Draft.