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Matt Barkley has a big decision to make

USC quarterback could turn pro after this season or stick around for a bowl game. Scouts say he might succeed in the NFL, but they don't expect him to be a star.

October 21, 2011|By Gary Klein
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley throws a touchdown pass to receiver Robert Woods against Syracuse earlier this season.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley throws a touchdown pass to receiver Robert… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

USC quarterback Matt Barkley is midway through what could be his final season with the Trojans.

Barkley this week reiterated that he will wait until the end of the year to decide whether to make himself available for the NFL draft.

That leaves others to debate, should he stay or should he go?

Saturday night's game against Notre Dame — and next week's matchup against unbeaten Stanford and presumed No. 1 pick Andrew Luck — could go a long way in determining the junior's draft prospects, whether he comes out in 2012 or 2013.

Barkley acknowledges the curiosity over his impending decision. "Obviously people are wondering," he said. "I'm wondering too."

So are NFL scouts, who typically hold off on in-depth analysis of players with remaining eligibility until those players declare for the draft.

However, Barkley is less of a mystery because he has been visible on the national scene since he enrolled at USC. The Trojans are 22-8 in games he has played.

With Luck, Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Arizona's Nick Foles among the quarterbacks eligible to turn pro, Barkley must decide whether to move on or return for a final season, when the Trojans will be eligible to participate in a bowl game and compete for the Bowl Championship Series title.

Before the season, Barkley was thought to be leaning toward turning pro.

"I'm not trying to get out of here, but I want to play great enough to make sure that there is no question, no doubt, about what I have to do," Barkley told The Times' Bill Plaschke in August.

Barkley has played great at times in leading USC to a 5-1 start, but he has also struggled.

Against Arizona, for example, he established a USC record for passing yards and total offense. In the next game, against California, he misfired on several potential big plays.

Barkley enters the Notre Dame game having completed 68% of his passes. He has passed for 16 touchdowns, with four interceptions.

Now comes Notre Dame, an opponent against whom former Trojans quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart clinched Heisman Trophies with outstanding performances.

One NFL team scout characterized Barkley as a smart, instinctive leader who understands the game and would prepare like a pro.

"His anticipation and ability to find players — get to that second and third read quickly — and just how to manage an offense, that's where he's really grown as a player," said the scout, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly about prospects.

Added the scout, "He doesn't have top-end skills, but he'll be a good quarterback."

Another scout said opinions vary widely on Barkley, who is listed at 6 feet 2 and 220 pounds.

"Sometimes guys bring out emotional reactions in people, and for some reason Barkley is that way," the scout said. "He's one of those people who gets people riled up one way or another. They're either defending his talent or they're saying it's not there."

The scout sees both ends of the spectrum.

"There's times when he looks very good, and times when he looks very average," the scout said. "He's not a tall guy, and he doesn't have that cannon for an arm.

"He is going to go pretty good [in the draft], but he's not elite by any stretch of the imagination. I think he'll go around the end of the first round."

The scout also said, "I think there's a ceiling on what he can be. He's so far down below what Luck and those guys are in terms of talent. But he's a good game manager, and he's a smart guy and he's tough. There are a lot of things to like about him; I just don't think he's special."

Longtime NFL draft guru Gil Brandt said Barkley should stay at USC, citing Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams and Andy Dalton of the Cincinnati Bengals as examples of quarterbacks who matured by spending four years in a college program. (Bradford, the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft, was a fourth-year junior in 2009).

USC Coach Lane Kiffin said scouts would monitor Barkley's third-down efficiency and performance in the fourth quarter of tight games. But he remains convinced that Barkley is ready for the NFL, citing the number of games he has played in a pro-style offense.

Former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez started only 16 games for the Trojans before the New York Jets selected him with the fifth pick in the 2009 draft.

"The question for Matt will not be, 'Am I ready?'" Kiffin said. "It will be more, 'What do I want to do?

"'Do I want to go to the NFL? Or be a four-year starter and a three-time captain with a chance to make a run at the Heisman and the first pick of the draft."

With games remaining against Notre Dame, Stanford, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and UCLA, Barkley said he already has plenty on his mind without considering his decision.

"I'll have all of December off to think about that, which will be nice," Barkley said. "So I'm not even worried about that right now."

gary.klein@latimes.com twitter.com/latimesklein Staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.

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