The 2011 season ended on such a high note for the Trojans, and the team headed into the offseason waiting to hear the decisions of four draft-eligible juniors who were considering early entry into the NFL.
The news came down last week that two of the players -- left tackle Matt Kalil and defensive end Nick Perry -- were both declaring for the draft. This was not unexpected news, although USC had been hoping for the best in regards to both players.
Now the attention shifts to quarterback Matt Barkley and safety T.J. McDonald.
After the recent announcement by Kalil, it appears that most USC fans are preparing themselves for the possibility that Barkley will leave. It’s not because the two players area package deal, it’s more because of the fact that there are a lot of reasons why it might happen.
What Barkley did over the last half of the season seemingly solidified his spot in the upper half of the first round, and that feedback from NFL people will only make the opportunity that much more real for him.
Barkley also took a recent trip to Seattle for a Monday night appearance by the Seahawks. It was an up close and personal look at the NFL and had to be enticing for a guy who has longed dreamed of playing in the league.
It’s hard to argue with wanting that for Barkley if you’re a Trojans fan, no matter how great it would be to see him return. It goes without saying that everything he could ever dream of as a college football player would be at his fingertips if he came back. A national championship or Rose Bowl run, a shot at the Heisman Trophy -- it would all be there for the taking, and Barkley is a young man who is aware of what that means.
The way he closed out the season also provided a pretty clean finish to his USC career if he chooses to go that route. A top-5 national ranking in the AP poll. A 50-0 victory over UCLA. A huge road win in Eugene to knock Oregon out of the national title game. And, of course, the final pass completion of the year went to his cousin, Robbie Boyer. For sheer emotional power, it’s hard to beat that.
As far as McDonald, the rumors swirling lately have him leaving for the pros as well. This decision would probably be the biggest surprise for Trojans fans, as McDonald would seem to be the one who would stand the most to gain by staying for another year. There’s little doubt that McDonald has the ability to one day be a fine safety in the NFL, and he might just think it’s time to start that process right now.
We wish Barkley and McDonald well with whatever choice they make -- they have earned that right with the way they have represented USC throughout their careers. No matter which decisions they make, the Trojans coaches will still be hitting the recruiting trail over the next month, the team will still show up for spring ball with a talented roster and -- of course -- it will also be eligible to go to a bowl game next year. That’s an awful lot to look forward to.