USC‘s senior quarterback, Matt Barkley, was one of the most beloved players in Trojans’ history heading into his final year. He was the team’s first true freshman starting quarterback and is the only three-year captain in the program’s history, and after throwing 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions in 2011, he was the preseason Heisman favorite.
His surprising decision to return for his senior year, to attend to “unfinished business,” united and excited the fan base and helped the Trojans jump to the top spot in the preseason rankings in their first year removed from a postseason ban.
Calling this season a “disappointment” would be an understatement, and the low point came in the painful loss to rival UCLA. Many things went wrong for the Trojans in that game, but nothing was worse than the lack of offensive line protection that gave Bruins’ linebacker Anthony Barr a straight shot at Barkley’s blind side with under three minutes left in the game.
A series earlier, Barkley had put together arguably his best drive of the game, for a touchdown that pulled USC to within three points of the Bruins. He didn’t get the chance to do it a second time.
Barr flew at Barkley’s blind side, completely untouched, slamming the quarterback into the turf. It’s not the first time Barkley’s taken a hard hit this year, far from it. But it was the first time he didn’t immediately bounce back up on his feet.
He stayed on the ground, attended by the USC training staff, before eventually walking off under his own power. Backup Max Wittek, who’ll compete for the starting job next year, came into the game in relief and immediately fumbled the snap. It was that kind of a game, and that kind of a season, for this year’s Trojans.
After the game, Barkley wore a jacket or sweatshirt without his arm through the sleeve, presumably to hide a sling on his throwing shoulder. When Barkley took the hit, his right shoulder hit the ground first, taking the brunt of the pressure.
Los Angeles Daily News reporter Scott Wolf, the journalist who was briefly banned earlier this season for reporting kicker Andre Heidari‘s knee surgery, tweeted that the quarterback might have a separated shoulder.
As of this year, USC does not provide injury information. When asked about his shoulder, Barkley repeated the Trojans’ policy, telling reporters: “We don’t talk about injuries.”
When a player of Barkley’s stature gets hurt, though, people are going to talk about it. If it is indeed a separated shoulder, his season, and his USC career, could be over.
He hasn’t had the year he hoped: his numbers were down without Matt Kalil‘s experience and talent at left tackle, his draft stock has fallen, and he’ll never have the chance to win a BCS Bowl or a National Championship for USC.
Barkley has taken a lot of criticism this season, some of it very legitimate, but USC never would have had so many expectations for this season if it wasn’t for his leadership. If he hadn’t worked the phones to hold the team and the recruiting class together when Pete Carroll left and the sanctions were announced, this year wouldn’t be a disappointment because USC wouldn’t have had the talent to hope for greatness this year.
It would have been a Hollywood ending if the golden boy quarterback had been the one to lead the Trojans back to national title game, but real life doesn’t happen like it does in the movies.
Regardless of Barkley’s numbers, or his draft stock or Heisman chances, or whether he led the team to a BCS bowl, he’s done more for the program over the last four years than anyone else, and he is one of the greatest USC quarterbacks of all time (just check the record books).
If his career really did end with a hard hit to his blind side that smashed him into the Rose Bowl grass, he deserved a much better send-off.
After all, Matt Barkley had USC’s back the last four years, no matter what. Someone should’ve had his.