If Matt Barkley is fortunate enough to squash Notre Dame’s national championship aspirations in his home finale next Saturday, the senior quarterback should diverge slightly from the routine formula of snatching up Tommy Trojan's sword and leading the marching band in their traditional victory song “Conquest.”
Instead, the Trojans golden boy should pull a Devon Miles and ask them if they can play some Asher Roth, because in no other locale can Roth’s summer anthem ‘I Love College’, have more profound meaning than on the USC campus.
That’s where USC’s (cardinal and) golden boy has called home for the past four years. It’s also where Barkley decided to return for his senior season rather than brave the harsh world outside the confines of the McKay Center, Heritage Hall and the L.A. Coliseum.
During the Pete Carroll years, being the Trojan’s starting quarterback was considered a mark of future greatness. At least that was the perception.Three years ago, the USC Trojans were college football’s preeminent destination for high school quarterbacks seeking to prep for the pros at a QB Ivy League.
In 124 years of college football, 15 Trojan quarterbacks have started at least one NFL contest. That’s more than any other program in the nation. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez parlayed their years choreographing the Trojan prolific offense into guaranteed early first round guap.
Back in 2009, Sanchez was in the midst of leading the New York Jets on their first improbable run to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie. Matt Cassel, who graduated from USC as the Tito to Leinart and Palmer’s Michael and Jermaine, was in the first year of his six-year, $62.7 million contract. Meanwhile, Matt Leinart was still considered the successor to Kurt Warner’s throne and Carson Palmer still had Ocho Cinco on the other end of his passes in Cincy.
Flash-forward three years later and the script has been flipped.
Of the four active starting NFL signal callers, none are expected to make the postseason and by the time Barkley takes his first pro snap, Palmer may be the only one still left standing as a starter. Meanwhile, Sanchez is the most inaccurate passer in the league and Cassel is barely surviving a quarterback controversy with Brady Quinn for the league’s worst team. Palmer is the lone, somewhat success story and even he has vastly underperformerd. He is just 53-64 as a NFL starter.
Barkley, once believed to be the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2012, isn’t even considered the best prospect on his offense anymore. That honor belongs to sophomore receiver Marquise Lee. Barkley remains a first-round prospect, but the shine that accompanied him when many believed he could win the Heisman as a freshman has dimmed a few shades.
In truth, reality is finally catching up to the USC quarterback illusion. In 2014, phenom David Sills, who committed to USC at 13, will attempt to become the Trojan's latest can’t-miss NFL quarterback prospect.
The last time USC had a string of quarterbacks swing through was in the early ‘90s when the quartet of Rob “Robo-sack” Johnson, Todd “Robo-QB” Marinovich, Sean Salisbury and Rodney Pete strode through campus. None of them became the franchise quarterbacks they were groomed to be.
Most disappointing out of the trio was Marinovich, football’s Diggy Simmons, who was given the pedigree and training from birth to be a Hall of Fame gunslinger but was hindered by his relentless drug habit. Barkley is a clean-cut kid by all accounts but in a few months he’ll have to leave the sunny state he’s called home for 22 years.
Numbers-wise Barkley can boast that he belongs in the same class as RG3 and Andrew Luck. However, NFL scouts who have Geno Smith rated ahead of him have qualms with his inability to make plays once the pocket collapses. Not to mention his lack of athleticism and average arm strength.
USC annually recruits the top teenage quarterbacks in the nation, but the NFL is full of late bloomers who weren’t as close to reaching their peak at 17.
Like most college grads, life is about to get real for Barkley
And if Barkley looks around and takes a look at how his predecessor’s careers have fallen short at the next level, he’ll take his time and ask himself the same question as a hungover Roth did: