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Matt Barkley and the Top Quarterbacks in USC History

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Top USC Trojans Quarterbacks, From Beathard to Barkley

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Before the 2012 football season, many thought USC quarterback Matt Barkley would lead the Trojans to a national championship, win the Heisman, and be remembered, without question, as the greatest Trojan in school history.

As USC stumbled to a 7-6 season, Barkley finished his illustrious career sidelined with a shoulder injury and surrounded by questions about what his legacy will be.

A Heisman likely would have cemented his status as one of the team’s most decorated quarterbacks, but he could still be a legend without one. After all, no USC quarterback had won the award until ten years ago, when Carson Palmer won it in 2002.

A national title, certainly, would have ensured Barkley’s place in history, but a win in a BCS bowl – preferably the Rose – might have been sufficient. Instead, Barkley leaves USC with just one bowl appearance, in the 2009 Emerald Bowl, thanks to the postseason bowl ban and this year's strained shoulder (although it's probably best that he can't take responsibility for this year's Hyundai Sun Bowl).

After four seasons as a starting quarterback, Barkley took over the USC passing record books, but much like Oklahoma’s Landry Jones, he’ll graduate without much to show for it.

He might not have added any hardware to Heritage Hall, but USC fans still believe that Barkley’s mark on the program was just as significant: keeping the program together during the bowl bans and representing the team during a time of turmoil and turnover.

His intangible qualities – and a superb junior season – helped Barkley become part of a prestigious group of quarterbacks, some of the best players for one of the most storied programs in college football.

Here’s a look at how he stacks up against some of the other top quarterbacks in USC history.

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Matt Leinart

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In December 2011, following his senior season, Matt Barkley shocked the college football world and thrilled USC fans by announcing he'd return for his senior season. Nearly seven years earlier, Matt Leinart, the most decorated quarterback in USC history, made the same decision.

Leinart became the second USC quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy following his junior season in 2004, when he threw 33 touchdowns and just 6 interceptions, completing 65.8% of his passes for 3,322 yards. At the end of his junior year, he had two national championships to his name after leading the Trojans to victory in a tremendous 55-19 win over Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl and a 28-14 victory over Michigan "at home" in the 2004 Rose Bowl game.

Leinart was the Pac-10 Offensive Player of the Year in 2003 and 2004. In 2004, his Heisman year, he was a consensus All-American and he was named AP Player of the Year and Walter Camp Player of the Year. He won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2005.

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Carson Palmer


Palmer paved the way for Leinart, becoming the first USC quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy in 2002, his senior season. He finished the year with a win over Iowa in the Orange Bowl. He set school records with 3,942 passing yards in a single season, 11,668 career passing yards, and 72 career touchdowns - a record later broken first by Leinart, then Barkley.

Palmer became the first pick in the 2003 NFL Draft, and he was a two-time Pro-Bowler with the Cincinnati Bengals, but he's remembered at USC for his role in bringing the Trojans back to the top of the college ranks.

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Rodney Peete

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Palmer was the first USC QB to win the Heisman, but Rodney Peete came close, finishing second in the voting in 1988. He was, however, the first Trojan to take home the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award for the best senior quarterback that season.

A three-year starter, Peete was known by teammates for his mobility and his vocal leadership. He had a 27-13 record as a starting quarterback, and he finished his career with 54 touchdowns, 42 interceptions, and 8,225 passing yards. He held several USC passing records until they were surpassed by Rob Johnson, followed by Palmer, Leinart, and finally Barkley.

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Rob Johnson

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Johnson is currently fourth on most USC passing lists, behind Palmer and the two talented Matts. Johnson was 676 of 1046 in his career in the early 1990s and had a 20-14-2 record as a starter. After his junior year, in 1993, Johnson was voted first-team All Pac-10, and he held most USC passing records when he graduated in 1994.

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Pete Beathard

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Beathard was the quarterback for USC in the early sixties, leading the team to the 1962 national championship and earning co-Player of the Game honors for his play in the 1963 Rose Bowl. He threw four touchdown passes in that game, the first Rose Bowl to feature a #1 vs. #2 match-up, between the Trojans and the Wisconsin Badgers.

In 2009, a USC beat writer for The OC Register included Beathard on his "Mount Rushmore" of USC quarterbacks - the four best in program history.

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Craig Fertig


Fertig succeeded Beathard as USC starting quarterback. He backed up Beathard during the 1962 championship season and, underlegendary USC Coach John McKay, set eight school passing records during the next two seasons.

Fertig's greatest play came in his senior year against Notre Dame, when he threw the winning touchdown pass to Rod Sherman with two minutes left in the game, giving USC the win. The 1964 game, when the Trojans battled back from a 17 point deficit, is one of the most memorable in the long-running series.

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Mike Rae

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Rae was the quarterback of the legendary 1972 USC Trojans National Championship squad, one of the greatest teams in college football history. The McKay-coached team went undefeated and finished the season with a blowout win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl.

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Pat Haden

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Haden was one of the most beloved quarterbacks in USC history, and he returned to the program a few years ago to serve as the athletic director, lending stability and credibility to the athletics department in the wake of a long NCAA investigation and subsequent sanctions.

Back in his playing days, he was a winning quarterback who was under center for several of the most memorable games in USC history. In his playing career at USC, he had 33 touchdowns and 25 interceptions, and was a member of the 1972 and 1974 national championship teams.

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Paul McDonald

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McDonald followed a few years after Rae and Haden, maintaining the level of success Trojan fans had come to expect. He led the team to another national title in 1978 and went 22-1-1 in 1978-79, with 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. An All-American in 1979, McDonald set 17 school, conference, and NCAA records in two seasons as a starter.

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Mark Sanchez

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Before he was flopping in the NFL with the New York Jets, Sanchez had one standout season as quarterback at USC. He was 313 of 487 in his short Trojans' career but still threw for a remarkable 41 touchdowns, with just 16 interceptions. He was only the starter for one season, electing to enter the draft after his junior year, but he went out on a high note. He led an 12-1 USC team to a Rose Bowl victory and was the game's MVP.

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Matt Barkley

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So where does Barkley fall on the list?

After four years as a starter, he's out-passed everyone else on the list, and he's earned the respect and praise of predecessors including Haden and Peete. Barkley was fifth in the Heisman voting after his junior year, after throwing 39 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He also set a new USC season completion record, passing Leinart with 69.1%.

Barkley fell short of his goal of 70+% in 2012, just as the team fell short of many of its goals, but the disappointing season shouldn't take away from his legacy. He excelled at USC in the face of steep odds, and as much as anyone on this list, and more than many, he truly embodied what it means to be a Trojan.