Kiffin says Barkley is being downgraded in voters' minds because of NCAA sanctions on the school, and he says he should actually be upgraded for being able to cope with the sanctions and still post Heisman-caliber numbers.
"I think what Matthew's suffering from is things outside his control: the probation, the sanctions, the dark clouds we've talked about," Kiffin told Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley on 710 ESPN radio Tuesday. "In reality, to me, that should go the other way. He's the only one dealing with that and putting those numbers up."
Barkley, a junior who is thought of as a likely first-round pick in the 2012 NFL draft if he chooses to leave school early, has come on strong in the Heisman chase in recent weeks after top-notch performances in wins at Notre Dame and Oregon and a near-victory over Stanford.
Of course, the Trojans are ineligible to compete in a bowl game because of the sanctions, and they're also being held out of the Pac-12 conference championship game -- which they would have been selected to play in if they were to beat UCLA this week.
So Barkley is still largely viewed as a longshot to go to New York in two weeks as a Heisman finalist, which Kiffin says is unfair considering the circumstances.
"None of the other guys around the country have to deal with all these players leaving because of sanctions and probation and all these young guys around them and no bowl game to go to," Kiffin said. "He's playing as well as anybody in the country, especially in big games with a very young unit around him.
"I think it should go the other way."
This season, Barkley has completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 3,105 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions -- marked improvements in every category from numbers he posted in his first two seasons as USC's starting quarterback.
Kiffin has said he would put Barkley No. 1 if he had a vote in the Heisman race.
Pedro Moura is a frequent contributor to ESPNLA.com and covers USC football.