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BILL PLASCHKE

For USC's Matt Barkley, one more year could be magical

USC quarterback Matt Barkley earned some swagger with his performance in the Trojans' domination of Notre Dame. The prospect of a shot at a national title and improving his draft position next season could be a strong inducement for him to hang around.

October 23, 2011|Bill Plaschke
  • USC quarterback Matt Barkley scrambles for a first down against Notre Dame in the first half Saturday evening.
USC quarterback Matt Barkley scrambles for a first down against Notre Dame… (Jonathan Daniel / Getty…)

From South Bend, Ind. -- One minute, he was running and lunging to keep a drive alive. The next minute, he was throwing a block to keep a run alive.

Then there was the time that Matt Barkley seemed to keep the entire offensive momentum alive when he chased down exhausted running back Curtis McNeal after a bouncing and bruising 13-yard run and hugged him all the way back to the huddle.

Barkley may not have looked like a classic NFL quarterback, but he never looked more like a winner than in USC's 31-17 upset over Notre Dame here Saturday. And now I'm thinking.

What if a game like this could convince him to stay in college for another season full of games like this? What if he realized that, instead of being buried under the statuesque likes of Andrew Luck, Nick Foles and Landry Jones, he could stick around and improve his strength and savvy while cementing his legend?

What if Saturday's stunning stomping of Notre Dame could make Matt Barkley realize that if he stays in school one more year, he could be leading a team with a shot at a national championship while following in the footsteps of a national star?

Hey, if staying four years in school was good enough for Luck and a guy named Tim Tebow .…

I would never recommend someone turning down a chance at making millions of dollars while pursuing their dream. It's just that if Barkley does decide he wants to become more than a projected late first-rounder, it appears Lane Kiffin is going to have the sort of team that can make him better, maybe even Heisman better.

In overwhelming the Irish — they were outgained by USC, 443 yards to 267 — the Trojans showed the sort of speed that could dominate next year. Barkley will be able to throw to three of the fastest receivers in the country, with Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and running back George Farmer all growing up in front of our blinking eyes.

In holding the Irish to 2.9 yards per carry — half of their average — the Trojan defense has consumed offenses for consecutive games, and finally seem to understand Monte Kiffin's system, which should place less pressure on Barkley.

For the Trojans to win Saturday, all Barkley needed to do was lead, which he did. He threw for only 224 yards, but the yards kept drives alive. His three touchdown passes totaled 19 yards, but two of them came at the end of long drives.

More important, he didn't make a mistake, and didn't let his teammates make a mistake, and walked off the field with the sort of bruised swagger that was invented by, well, Tebow.

"This is huge," Barkley said afterward.

It was huge for a kid who is becoming a great college quarterback.

Maybe it was even big enough to keep him one.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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