Matt Barkley's six-touchdown performance against the UCLA Bruins on Saturday night not only capped off a great season by Barkley and possibly a fine career, but it was an exclamation point on a decade of quarterback excellence by the USC Trojans.
Ten years ago the Trojans' football program was a bit of a mess. New head coach Pete Carroll went just 6-6 in his first season in Los Angeles, but at least that was an improvement from the lifeless 5-7 squad in Paul Hackett's final season in 2000. USC was just 71-58-3 (.549) from 1991-2001 and had just a single 10-win season (1988) in 22 years.
USC had long been known as Tailback U, and with good reason. From Mike Garrett to O.J. Simpson to Anthony Davis to Ricky Bell to Charles White to Marcus Allen, the Trojans had a rich tradition at tailback. Four of those six running backs won the Heisman Trophy, with Davis and Bell each finishing second. To this day, the USC game notes list rushing statistics before passing.
Heading into the 2002 season, only one USC quarterback threw for 3,000 yards in a single season - Rob Johnson, with 3,630 yards in 1993 - and only three times had a Trojans' quarterback thrown for as many as 20 touchdowns in one year.
Student body left and student body right weren't working as well by 2001, and the Trojans were a rather ordinary team. However, that was about to change.
Carson Palmer was entering his senior season at quarterback in 2002, and was joined by a young and talented group of players. Palmer went nuts that season, passing for 3,942 yards in 13 games, a school record that still stands, to go with 33 touchdowns. Palmer won the Heisman Trophy for his efforts and USC capped off an 11-2 season by beating Iowa in the Orange Bowl.
It was the first of a record seven straight BCS bowl games for the Trojans, of which they won six. From Palmer to fellow Heisman winner Matt Leinart, to John David Booty, to Mark Sanchez, to Barkley, the common thread over the last 10 years has been excellent quarterback play.
Barkley's season - 3,528 yards, a new school and Pac-12 record 39 touchdowns, just seven interceptions - was the seventh individual season of 3,000 or more yards by a USC quarterback in the last 10 years.
From 2002-2011, the average season from the USC passing attack was a 63.9% completion percentage, 3,493 yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That will get it done, and it has, on the field.
|Best Record In FBS, 2002-2011|
The Trojans have had 25 seasons of 10 or more wins in school history, and eight of those have come in the last 10 years. Sure, it is easier to win 10 games with a 13-game schedule, but remember from 2002-2008 the minimum number of wins in a season for USC was 11, and this year's 10-win squad only had 12 games to work with.
USC in the last 10 years has won 109 games, a mark surpassed only by Boise State. It is arguably the best 10-year stretch in school history. The Trojans are 109-20 from 2002-2011, an .845 winning percentage, with one AP national championship (2003) and another BCS title (2004, since vacated). From 1972-1981, USC was 97-18-4, an .832 winning percentage, with one AP national championship (1972) and two more UPI titles (1974, 1978).
Maybe Tailback U has become Quarterback U.
Now the only question is will it continue in 2012? Matt Barkley has a choice to make, whether he wants to turn pro and possibly get drafted high in the first round of the NFL Draft, or come back to school for one more year with a national championship contender, free of any NCAA sanctions or bowl bans.
If Barkley comes back, he will likely break every significant USC career passing record, most currently held by either Palmer or Leinart. "Regardless of Matt's decision, he'll be one of the great Trojans of all-time," head coach Lane Kiffin said last week.
Whether one of Jesse Scroggins, Cody Kessler, or Max Wittek - all sophomores next year - can step in and continue the USC quarterbacking excellence remains to be seen. They will have the dynamic duo of Robert Woods and Marqise Lee to throw to, so expect some success through the air regardless of whom is behind center.
Whenever Barkley leaves, all we know is that the new field general will have big shoes to fill.