FALL OF TROY: USC isn’t going to a BCS game, and Matt Barkley won’t be drafted where he should’ve been. Photo courtesy Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

If you asked Matt Barkley at the beginning of the season what’d he be doing with his Friday night on the last day of November, he probably wouldn’t say anything but “playing football”, possibly even accentuated with a “duh”.

Well, I can’t personally account for what Barkley was doing last night, but it sure wasn’t playing football.

To say this season hasn’t gone according to plan for USC is kind of like saying Middle Tennessee State isn’t in the running for an at-large BCS bid. Starting the year pre-ranked by the AP as the top team in the nation, USC lost their first game where their opponent presented a noticeable challenge (Stanford, in Week 3). And it didn’t stop there. Five weeks later, they lost to Arizona and then, seven days after that, to Oregon. Finally, after rebounding against Arizona State, the Trojans lost to cross-town rival UCLA and then, last weekend, fell to Notre Dame cinching the Fighting Irish’s perfect season.

Things have gone equally haywire for Trojans quarterback Matt Barkley, as well. Returning to school for his final year, Barkley, by all accounts, was the odds-on favorite to take the Heisman. Instead, his yardage and completion percentage are down from last year and his interception total has more than doubled. His season — or his regular season, at least —  finally came to a merciful end when a sprained shoulder kept him from suiting up against Notre Dame.

Now, teammate Marqis Lee is the only Trojan even in the Heisman CONVERSATION, and Barkley is limping (metaphorically, of course) towards the genesis of his NFL career. A career that, as it turns out, will suffer enormous collateral damage as a result of this downtrodden season.

CHANGING LANES: For Lane Kiffin and 7-5 USC, there’s always next year. For Matt Barkley? Not so much. Photo courtesy Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

It’s hard to play the “what-if” game, but had Barkley foregone another year at USC and entered the draft last year, it’s conceivable he would’ve been a Top 5 pick. Granted, he removed his name long before any real mock drafts could come to fruition, but he was regularly tossed around with guys like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.

In the 2013 NFL Draft, Matt Barkley will NOT be a Top 5 pick. Or, if he is, he’s got a long road between now and April to start changing people’s minds.

Just how bad is it? One NFL scout told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that he wouldn’t even grade Barkley as a first round talent. More astonishingly, this critique is coming in a year where the quarterback crop is going to be historically weak. Outside of Barkley and West Virginia gunslinger Geno Smith, there really isn’t much to get excited about.

If I said what a difference a year makes, you’d probably roll  your eyes at the injection of that awful cliché. But, man, what a difference a year makes.

Even in 2012’s loaded NFL draft where we saw four quarterbacks go in the first round and five eventually be named starters for their team, Barkley looks as though he’ll be drafted lower than he would have back then.

This isn’t to say Barkley won’t find employment in the NFL. The Cardinals’ quarterback corps. is a revolving door, Jets fans will be clamoring that the club replace Sanchez AND Tebow, and the play of Chad Henne in Jacksonville only sheds more light on how much Blaine Gabbert is NOT the long-term answer there. Hell, even Kansas City could be looking to move on from Matt Cassel.

But if you compare those opportunities to the ones that were available last year, it’s just not the same. Cleveland may have passed on Trent Richardson and taken Barkley instead. And, if they didn’t, Miami almost surely would’ve called Matt’s name before they did Tannehill’s.

The best part in all of this is that Barkley says he doesn’t regret coming back to USC.

While NFL evaluators will appreciate this knack for saying non-controversial things to the media, we all know it’s a bunch of bull. How could he NOT regret coming back to USC? The only two real reasons that existed for returning to school were, A, to improve his draft stock, and, B, to do something memorable with this Trojans team.

Well, neither of those things happened. Now Barkley is looking like a fringe first round draft prospect and his team’s only accomplishment in 2012 was finishing with a bowl-eligible record.

No, I take that back. USC DID do something special this year. Going from first to being unranked? That hasn’t happened in nearly five decades. There’s something to hang your hat on.

Joking aside, the fact of the matter is Matt Barkley’s final year of college football will ultimately be viewed as a cautionary tale to promising athletes debating on whether they should stay in school or head for the pros. The parent in all of us knows the downside of leaving college before you’re done (you need something to fall back on, you can’t play games forever!), but now there exists a very real and cogent counterargument.

If Matt Barkley ends up having a fine pro career, he’ll wish he hadn’t forced it into the sluggish start it’ll likely now have. And, if Matt Barkley flames out at the next level, you better believe he’ll be missing all that guaranteed money he could’ve made on the first night of the draft.

As far as life goes, it’s clear he did the right thing. Only about three in ten Americans get a higher education, and his is already paid in full. But, when it comes to football, staying that extra year?

It looks like Mr. Barkley misread the coverage again.

NOTE: This story was originally published on SportsHead. To read this article and others click here.
When Bryan isn’t writing, he is on Twitter! Make sure to follow him @bclienesch for NCAA updates and other shenanigans!