As senior quarterback Matt Barkley ran into the locker room after a 50-6 rout against Colorado, he was all smiles. And why wouldn’t he be? He had the game of his life and set records that should stand for years.
Barkley threw his 100th career touchdown pass, making him the school’s all time leader, and the Pac-12 leader as well, surpassing former Trojan signal caller Matt Leinart. He went 19-20 on the day, giving him the highest completion percentage in conference history as well with a 95-percent clip. His efficiency rating was a staggering 319.16, the best in conference history by nearly 15 points. Oh, and he threw six touchdown passes, tying his own mark for the most in USC single-game history.
Yes, Saturday was about Barkley and his fellow star, junior wide receiver Robert Woods, who set the school record for receptions with his 217th. But in the grand scheme of things, it was all about Barkley. The four-year starter sits at 102 touchdown passes currently, and is one of only 15 quarterbacks in Football Bowl Subdivision history to throw 100 or more touchdowns. Barkley is going to leave USC as the leader in pretty much every statistical quarterbacking category. His name will be all over the record books, and he’ll go down as the best signal caller in school history.
Beyond the numbers themselves, however, Saturday was about Barkley’s legacy and what he has meant to the USC program. I don’t know if a record such as the one he set yesterday for career touchdown passes will ever be equaled by another quarterback who graces the conference, but I do know this: No other player will throw a more meaningful 100 touchdowns than Barkley has.
Coming out of Mater Dei high school in Santa Ana, Calif., Barkley was destined to be a star. He was the top quarterback in his recruiting class and was on everyone’s All-American list. He came to USC, seized the quarterback job and got off to a fast start. His first career touchdown came in his first career game against San Jose State back in 2009, when the future was bright for the Trojans, who had just come off a Rose Bowl victory against Penn State in January. Pete Carroll was still at the helm, and USC was ranked in the top 10. He finished with 15 touchdown passes and was named a freshman All-American. The future was bright indeed.
Then, disaster struck. The NCAA sanctioned the Trojans, Carroll left to coach the Seattle Seahawks and players were free to leave the program without having to sit out a season. Ultimately, Barkley decided to stay and weather the two-season bowl ban. The Trojans trudged through a tough first season under new head coach Lane Kiffin and finished 8-5, their worst record since 2001. Barkley threw 26 more touchdowns, but questions still remained as to whether he was the answer to USC’s current problems.
For Barkley, 2011 was his defining year. Ineligible once again for the postseason, Barkley and the Trojans lost an early game at Arizona State and then lost a triple-overtime heartbreaker to the Andrew Luck-led Stanford Cardinal.
But it was after that when the legend of Matt Barkley formed.
He led USC to wins in the rest of its games, including an on-the-road upset over then-No. 4 ranked Oregon. He defeated UCLA 50-0 and finished sixth place in the Heisman Trophy voting. He was a third-team All-American and set a conference record for single-season touchdowns with 39. Expected to be a top-five pick in the 2012 NFL draft, people presumed that Barkley’s collegiate career was over. He would finish with 80 career touchdown passes — a solid number, but not enough to break records. He would be a three-year starter who won games but didn’t lead the Trojans to the promised land.
During December 2011, Barkley held a press conference to announce his intention to leave USC, once again leaving the Trojans in disarray.
Except he didn’t announce his intent to leave. He instead said he had “unfinished business.” That was when Barkley ‘s legend solidified.
The school record for touchdown passes was clearly within reach, seeing as he was only 19 away from tying Leinart when the season started. The fact that he was going to break the record is unimportant; it’s the way in which he did it.
If Barkley had left USC for the NFL, not only would he not have set the records he set Saturday, but USC would have been in disrepair. With all of the players coming back from a potent offense, the most important piece of a potential national title contender would be gone, leaving USC back at square one. But “Matty Trojan,” as Kiffin has affectionately called him, wanted to finish what he had started.
So when Woods caught that touchdown in the second quarter to give Barkley number 100, it meant far more than just a record. It didn’t just mean he had more scoring tosses than conference legends like Leinart, Dan Fouts, John Elway, Jim Plunkett and Gary Beban. It meant he had stayed all four years at USC. It meant he hadn’t left when he could have gone elsewhere and competed for a postseason bowl berth. It meant he had refused a chance at the NFL for the chance to be the greatest USC player of all time.
Most importantly, however, it meant through tough losses and sanctions, there was no other place he would rather be than at USC. Touchdown records are great, but the reason Barkley was here to break them is what matters. He did not give up and refused to quit on the school he loves, showing not only a desire to win but the true spirit of a Trojan.
Barkley is likely to throw a lot more touchdowns this year, considering USC might play in seven more games. But his 100th scoring toss should be a moment to remember forever. That perfect spiral represented dedication, heart and everything good about college football. And who knows when we will ever see that again.
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