USC quarterback Matt Barkley has until January to decide if he wants to enter… (Gary A. Vasquez / U.S. Presswire )
USC quarterback Matt Barkley said Wednesday that he has submitted paperwork to the NFL.
Remain calm, USC fans.
Barkley, at Coach Lane Kiffin's direction, simply made the standard evaluation request that most draft-eligible players file after their junior seasons.
Nevertheless, it was the first step in what will be a weeks-long process as Barkley decides whether to turn pro or return for a final college season.
"There's not really a timetable," he said in an interview on campus. "But there's definitely going to be a process."
Barkley faces a mid-January deadline to make himself available for the April 2012 draft.
Meantime, USC students are doing their best to persuade him to stay.
Eleven young men in the student section at Saturday's game against UCLA at the Coliseum had ONE MORE YEAR painted across their chests and bellies. A petition also is circulating on campus, and fans are expressing their feelings across social media platforms.
USC has amped up its campaign to get Barkley to New York for the Heisman Trophy announcement Dec. 10.
Kiffin pounded the drum during the last few weeks of the season, saying Barkley deserved a seat with other finalists at the Heisman table. In the season finale against UCLA, Kiffin's play-calling put Barkley in position to tie his own school record with six touchdown passes in a game and to break Matt Leinart's conference record for touchdown passes with 39 in a season.
"I don't know how you don't vote him at the top of that list," Kiffin said.
Barkley believes he belongs in the discussion.
"I definitely think I should be in the running," Barkley said. "It's been a dream of mine and something I set at the beginning of this year to accomplish."
If Barkley had a Heisman ballot, he said he would pencil in his name along with those of Alabama running back Trent Richardson and Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
"I don't know if there's an order," he said, grinning. "I haven't watched all those games. … Not everyone gets to watch me either. The UCLA game was on at 10 o'clock on the East Coast. Who's going to stay up and watch that?"
Barkley said he would have no regrets if he decides to move on to the NFL without winning college football's most coveted honor.
"I usually don't like to think of them as regrets or I missed out on something," he said, "because I do believe I put forth the best effort, played my heart out and we all played as well as we could."
Next week, Barkley and his family will continue to collect information regarding his draft status. Contact with agents and other experienced parties in the league will be made. However, he also will seek counsel from people such as Bruce Rollinson, his high school coach at Santa Ana Mater Dei, and those who have known him since childhood, including cousin Robbie Boyer, a USC receiver who caught a pass from Barkley against UCLA in his final college game.
"It won't only be from the business side," Barkley said.
But business, of course, will weigh heavily in his decision.
"If I were to leave it would be due to the fact that I would be a top-five pick, a top-10 pick, something I've dreamed of, something I've always wanted to happen," he said. "I think if I were to go it would be just that time in my life where I finished well at USC and I'm ready to move on.
"I've always kind of been a step ahead of the curve. Not in an arrogant way, but mainly because of Robbie all of my friends have always been older. In high school, I was ready to get out, so I left high school early, and that could be a factor in me leaving."
Barkley said the chance to compete for a national title as a Heisman frontrunner and completing his degree without having to juggle school while preparing for the draft "definitely plays a role" in a possible return.
Had the Trojans been bowl-eligible this season, Barkley would have liked to play top-ranked Louisiana State.
"With the way we've been playing the last couple weeks, I don't feel like anyone could stop us," he said. "It would be a classic matchup that people would love to watch."
If Barkley returns, the Trojans would be regarded as a preseason contender for the Bowl Championship Series title. If not, he would turn his attention to eventually winning a Super Bowl.
"Either way, I'm going to have a blast playing football," he said. "Because we're going to have a great team coming back, or I'll be in the league."