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USC's Matt Barkley says his play's the thing in Heisman campaign

Quarterback Matt Barkley, considered the front-runner for college football's top award, is fine with USC's promotional efforts on his behalf. But he says it'll come down to what he does on the field.

July 28, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • Matt Barkley has been groomed for success long before his stellar days at USC.
Matt Barkley has been groomed for success long before his stellar days at… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

Matt Barkley envisions his main role in any Heisman Trophy campaign to be devoid of endless interviews, slickly produced highlight reels, social media posts, high-tech phone applications and promotional gimmicks.

"My campaign," the USC quarterback says, "is on the field."

Barkley, though, easily handled a bull-rush of attention at Pac-12 Conference media day earlier this week. He saw the demands coming the second he passed on the opportunity to turn pro and announced he would return to USC for his senior season.

And the self-described "tech nerd" even had a hand in developing what USC hopes will be a fan-friendly mobile app to promote Barkley and deliver information about the Trojans.

The school billed the app "PROJECT TRO7AN," a play on Barkley's jersey number.

But USC also is attempting to avoid oversaturation.

Barkley shares the front of the school's schedule poster with seven other players. He also is part of a group shot on the cover of the football media guide. And USC's new app will include information about all players, not just the one regarded by many as the front-runner for college football's most coveted honor.

"He goes in as 'the guy,'" USC sports information director Tim Tessalone says, "so you don't have to do a lot of setting the table."

Barkley can do much of that on his own. He is an active social media user with more than 58,000 followers on Twitter. On Wednesday, an "Ask Me Anything" interview generated nearly 1,500 comments. (The only class Barkley will take this fall is the tech-based "Macintosh, OSX, and iOS Forensics.")

For all his willingness to engage fans and reporters, Barkley said his approach this season would be simple: "Just shut up and do work."

Coach Lane Kiffin is a likely advocate. Kiffin, who was a USC assistant when quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart and tailback Reggie Bush won the Heisman, is expected to do everything possible as a play-caller to ensure that Barkley remains at the forefront of the Heisman discussion.

"We do have a tradition of throwing a lot of touchdown passes," Kiffin says, laughing, "but it won't be based on the Heisman."

Barkley, who passed for 39 touchdowns last season, is aware of Kiffin's standing as one of the most statistics-conscious coaches in college football.

"Yes," he says, grinning broadly. "And I love it."

Seven USC players have won the Heisman, tying Notre Dame and Ohio State for the all-time lead, even though the Trojans typically refrain from over-the-top campaigns.

"I don't think they overdo it," says broadcaster Keith Jackson, a Heisman voter who called college football games for more than 50 years. "They're just damn good at it."

Tessalone, USC's sports information director since 1984, says the philosophy is simple: "A steady disbursement of information during the season, and ramp it up when appropriate."

USC's approach to promoting Heisman candidates has evolved through the years.

In 1965, the cover of USC's football media guide featured the school seal but no photographs. Spreading the word about Mike Garrett, the first Trojan to win the Heisman, was left to Coach John McKay, who stumped for the tailback before and during the season.

Tailback O.J. Simpsonwas the first player to be featured on the cover of USC's media guide, though he was not identified by name. On the back cover, there was a photo of Simpson with the phrase, "All the way with O.J," the headline on Sports Illustrated's account of USC's 1967 victory over UCLA and Heisman winner Gary Beban, which featured a legendary 64-yard touchdown run by Simpson.

In 1974, per McKay's instruction, Heisman hopeful Anthony Davis shared the media guide cover with five teammates. A voting deadline that passed before Davis' performance in the Trojans' historic 55-24 comeback victory against Notre Dame short-circuited the tailback's Heisman hopes. He finished second behind Ohio State's Archie Griffin.

Two years later, after tailback Ricky Bell finished third in the 1975 Heisman voting, new coach John Robinson and USC took a small step into the hype game. An action photo of Bell appeared on the cover of the 1976 media guide with type that identified him as a "Heisman Trophy Candidate."

Back then, schools appeared on national television only a few times each season. Contact with media largely was done through mail and early-in-the-week "advance" trips by sports information officials to cities where the Trojans would play next.

The Trojans lost their opener against Missouri but Bell scored four touchdowns in a 53-0 victory at Oregon the following Saturday. With a game at Purdue next, Jim Perry, USC's sports information director at the time, traveled to Chicago for a Big Ten Conference media luncheon on the Tuesday after the Oregon game. As he handed out photos and copies of news stories, several media members asked him the same question:

"How did Bell do in his last game?"

Perry laughs when recalling the information lag.

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