USC To NFL: Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow Follow Winding Paths


Matt Barkley was once the number one recruit in high school football at Mater Dei. He committed to USC and became the first quarterback in Trojan history to start as a true freshman. He led USC all four years of eligibility and broke several Trojan records, including career passing yards and touchdowns.

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Barkley, like Matt Leinart before him, decided to come back for his fourth and final year of eligibility in hopes of winning the National Championship and possibly a Heisman Trophy. Just like Leinart, his NFL stock would take a hit. Unlike Leinart, it would be a drastic one.

Heading into 2012, the Trojans were coming off the high of a ten-win season that included victories at Oregon and a 50-0 blowout of UCLA. Barkley was a sure-fire first round draft pick with the potential of breaking the top ten. His love of USC and the thought of “unfinished business” proved too much for the allure of the NFL.

The Trojans felt the first round of scholarship hits and the defense couldn’t rebound, nor could the Monte Kiffin Tampa Two scheme stop a mobile quarterback. After starting the season 6-1, USC went on to lose five of their last six games, including a UCLA loss at the Rose Bowl that saw Barkley injure his throwing arm. USC ended the season at 7-6 with Barkley on the sideline in a sling.

Not exactly a fairy tale ending.

Aug 29, 2015; Green Bay, WI, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley (2) during the game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Philadelphia won 39-26. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Barkley had been a true Trojan, sticking with the program after Pete Carroll left for the NFL, NCAA sanctions coming down and inconsistencies from head coach Lane Kiffin. He didn’t need the NFL money, but he could have led an NFL team.

Barkley fell to the fourth round amid concerns of his shoulder strength, and former Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly drafted him for the Philadelphia Eagles. If not for Kelly’s absolute admiration for Barkley’s performances against his Ducks, it’s hard to fathom how far Barkley would have fallen.

Barkley would become the third string backup to the likes of Nick Foles, Michael Vick and eventually fellow Trojan Mark Sanchez. In his minimal playing time in 2013, Barkley didn’t look good, accounting for only 300 yards passing and four interceptions. He threw only one pass in 2014, an incompletion. Needless to say, it wasn’t working out in Philly.

Enter Tim Tebow.

Tebow won a Heisman and two National Championships in the SEC, praising Jesus in the Bible belt while a member of the most powerful conference with the biggest platform. Despite obvious mechanical issues, Tebow was drafted in the first round and led the Denver Broncos to a miraculous playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. And then, Peyton Manning needed a new team.

Tebow went from being arguably the greatest college football player in history, to being a sideshow circus act built on “Tebowing.” His faith was overshadowing his ability to play football, or the lack there-of. Then, in a move that reeks of desperation, Chip Kelly gave Tebow a call after being out of the league for two years.

“Tim has a lot of skills that a lot of other quarterbacks don’t have,” Kelly said, “because of the way he can run the football.”

Given the Kelly system at Oregon, Tebow is obviously a better fit than Barkley, but why draft Barkley in the first place? Barkley wasn’t pleased with the pickup.

“He’s not taking my reps on the field,” Barkley said back in May.

So began the competition between Barkley and Tebow. Tebow was just happy to involved.

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“Sometimes when things are taken away, you realize how much you really love it, and sometimes you love it more after that,” said the returning Tebow. “So it’s not necessarily coming back, but the time away that makes you love it more.”

Barkley was traded to the Arizona Cardinals on Friday. Tebow was cut on Saturday. Much ado about very little in a league that is as much about entertainment off the field as on. Tebow’s jerseys will continue to sell. Barkley just wants to compete.

Barkley will now be the back up for Carson Palmer, without question the most successful Trojan QB at the next level, even if he has also seen his ups and downs. Plus, Barkley is much closer to his home base and he’ll be working in a system that suits his abilities.

Barkley is better for the move, but it’s just another turn in a winding road that has been his career since deciding to come back for one more year. Only time will tell if Barkley will be given the opportunity to end his career on his own terms.