“Matt Barkley is following Matt Leinart in returning for a senior season at USC and a shot at a unique place in Trojan lore. What can Barkley learn from what Leinart went through? What are the key similarities and/or differences in what lies ahead for Barkley?”
Both Matt Leinart and Matt Barkley had the opportunity after their respective junior years at USC to turn pro and become first-round draft choices. Both had accomplished enough at the college level to justify a move to the NFL, but what I respect about the choices of both to return is that they did it to take a shot at something special.
For Leinart, he already had a Heisman Trophy in his back pocket, as well as one BCS national title and a pair of AP titles. There wasn’t a whole lot left for him to prove to anybody, but there was definitely an opportunity to make some history.
The USC program at the time was riding high and Leinart had a chance to be a three-time national champion and two-time Heisman winner. That would have put him on an elite level, maybe even earned him consideration as the most successful college quarterback of all-time. He didn’t end up with that second Heisman -- that went to his teammate Reggie Bush -- and he fell just short in the pursuit of another national title in a loss to Texas. Just because he didn’t get to those ultimate goals doesn’t matter -- the fact is that he went for it, and that decision is to be commended.
Barkley may not have had the Heisman or the titles, but his credentials are impressive nonetheless. If he had turned pro after last season there wouldn’t have been a lot of shock but he came back for -- as he put it -- some unfinished business. He came back for a shot at returning the USC program to the heights of college football after a two-year bowl ban period where Barkley and his teammates paid for the sins of someone else.
We don’t know how the story will end for Barkley and the Trojans. He might get the Heisman and national title but, then again, he might not. Either way, he is giving it his shot and that puts him in company with Leinart in my mind as guys who put the NFL on hold for the chance to do something special, the kind of opportunities which simply don’t come along too often in life.
First and foremost, these two are completely different personalities. Barkley seems to be completely disciplined and at ease with all the attention, thanks to some very down-to-earth parents. He seems to have kept everything in perspective. Right or wrong, Leinart, seemed to love the celebrity status within the celebrity circles, but he appeared to grow very uncomfortable with the general public. As Leinart’s senior season continued, he seemed to unfortunately withdraw and succumb to the expectations of celebrity.
Barkley can learn from the Leinart celebrity situation by not getting distracted by the fast lane and work hard to stay grounded within his own circle of friends and supporters. In my opinion, Leinart is the greatest quarterback in Trojans history who grew to dislike his open celebrity status as the pressure of his senior season mounted. I think that Barkley is an extroverted, fun-loving kid who will turn most of the pressures of this season into positive experience and embrace the journey.
The main thing Matt Barkley can learn from Matt Leinart's experience in 2005 is to not project too far ahead and just take things as they come. There are obvious similarities here, especially with both directing high-powered offenses.
Leinart, of course, had the eventual Heisman Trophy winner Reggie Bush in the same backfield with him, making it two Heismans playing for the same team at the same time. The only other team I think did that was Army back in the Glenn Davis-Doc Blanchard era.
Leinart had the burden of that winning streak to go along with everything else that season. It reached 34 in a row before the gut-wrenching 41-38 loss to Texas in the BCS title game.
Although Leinart had great receivers, he didn't have two the caliber of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, who already form the finest tandem in Trojans' history. So while Barkley has an advantage there, he doesn't have a gamebreaker like Bush, although two 1,000 yard runners in the backfield won't hurt.
Barkley would also do well to look back at Leinart's 12-0 run to the BCS title game and realize there were several close calls (at Notre Dame, Arizona State and, of all teams, Fresno State at home).
Like it was in 2005, these Trojans will be the biggest opponent on every team's schedule. That makes it difficult, but it will be interesting to see if Barkley and Co. can match the staggering 600 points the Leinart group put up in their 12 regular season games.