Going into the season, the storylines surrounding senior quarterback Matt Barkley were about his Heisman Trophy campaign and how the Trojans were destined to play in the BCS bowl that the four year starter deserved to star in.
Yet, here we are now, with the Trojans falling 2,000 miles short of Miami and two wins shy of a BCS bowl, all while Barkley is still reeling from a violent hit from UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr. Needless to say, the sentiment of the postseason has changed.
Head coach Lane Kiffin told the media on Sunday night that Barkley would play against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl, showing confidence in the senior’s ability to overcome an AC sprain in his right shoulder. But is playing Barkley the right move?
The Trojans, with Max Wittek having taken the final snaps of the regular season against No. 1 Notre Dame, are to the point where they must start looking ahead to 2013, as opposed to wallowing in their own demise and questioning how they wound up in West Texas and not South Beach.
As evident with Pat Haden’s strong assertion that Lane Kiffin will retain his job to salvage recruiting, the future and putting the Trojans in the best position to win in 2013 and beyond is the aim. With a bowl game giving the Trojans 13 to 15 extra days of practice before spring camp opens in March, starting Wittek for a second consecutive game goes a long way in taking that first step to 2013 success.
Not only would Wittek get an extra few weeks of first team reps, but backup Cody Kessler would strongly benefit from being the No. 2 quarterback as everyone gears up for what should be an intense three-way quarterback battle in the spring along with incoming freshman Max Browne.
For Barkley, the USC career leader in every stat imaginable, being healthy for the February’s NFL combine and April’s Pro Day at USC has to be the top priority. While playing in a bowl game would be a well-deserved reward for having stayed an extra year at USC despite sanctions and the allure of NFL paychecks, it’s too risky to his draft stock.
Barkley has to show that he has the arm strength and that he can overcome an arm injury, but there’s more to lose in a poor performance than to gain in a well played game. All season long, what’s hurt Barkley this season in terms of his draft stock is his in-game struggles and decision making. Unlike Mark Sanchez in the 2009 Rose Bowl, those setbacks won’t be erased with one sensational bowl game. And considering how impressive Barkley could be in a pro day setting, he has everything to gain by taking additional time to get back to 100 percent as opposed to hastening his recovery for the poetic justice of a potential bowl win.
It may not be a happy ending to play Wittek in the Sun Bowl, but if it’s the best for the Trojans moving forward and the best for Barkley’s draft stock, why can’t it be the best for the game plan?
What do you think? If you were Lane Kiffin, who would start against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the Sun Bowl? Matt Barkley, to give him the swan song he’s earned? Or, is the future more important for the trio of Wittek, Kessler and Barkley? Vote in our poll and leave your thoughts below in the comments.