USC’s football program was expected to contend for – and possibly win – a national title last season.
Instead, the Trojans dropped five of their last six games, including a 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, and finished 7-6.
A lot of blame can go around for such a disappointing season, and some of that blame, to be sure, belongs to head coach Lane Kiffin.
“I think he was a little tight because of the preseason hype and expectations, and I think the team felt that pressure filter down from him,” Scott Wolf, the USC beat writer for LA Daily News, said on the Damon Amendolara Show. “I think everybody was a little on edge even though they tried to say they weren’t worried about the polls or what other people said.”
After losing at Stanford, 21-14, in the third week of the season, USC defeated four inferior opponents before unraveling.
“The sails went flop (after that loss to Stanford),” Wolf said. “There was just not that same energy.”
While Kiffin deserves his fair share of the blame, so too does quarterback Matt Barkley, whose leadership ability, Wolf said, was lacking.
“I know people at USC – like Lane Kiffin – would disagree,” Wolf said, “(but) I think if you talked to players privately they would question Matt Barkley’s leadership, especially near the end of the year. I think some of them felt he wasn’t as engaged with the team like he should have been.”
Barkley threw 15 interceptions in 387 attempts last season – this after throwing just seven interceptions in 446 attempts as a junior. His completion percentage also fell from 69.1 to 63.6.
“I think it was on the field and off the field that the team kind of felt his shortcomings,” Wolf said.
Barkley, who would have been one of the top picks in the NFL Draft last year – even with Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III garnering so much attention – will now be lucky to sniff the first round. He’s projected as a second-rounder in next week’s draft.
“I don’t think anyone would have anticipated that 12 months ago,” Wolf said.
Wolf theorized that the national-title talk – not to mention being postseason-eligible for the first time in his collegiate career – may have gotten in Barkley’s head a bit.
It’d be easy to say that Barkley will be fine in the NFL because he went to USC. Unfortunately for him, none of his Trojan predecessors has fared all that well at the next level. Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez – and, to a certain extent, Matt Cassel – have all underperformed. Wolf hasn’t been particularly surprised by any of this, especially when it comes to Leinart.
“I fully expected Matt Leinart to be a bust in the NFL ,” Wolf said, “just because of his attitude and the (immature) way he acted at USC.”
Wolf doesn’t believe that’ll be an issue for Barkley.
“To Barkley’s benefit, he is totally the opposite of Matt Leinart,” Wolf said. “I think Barkley comes from a strong support system with his family. He’s a very religious guy, which leads to him being super focused all the time.
“He’s just a quarterback’s quarterback in terms of his whole life has revolved around this,” Wolf continued. “He has played so much football. He’s got a ton of experience, he knows what he has to do and what he has to work on, and I think he wants to prove people wrong.”
Wolf said it’s possible that some NFL teams are playing down their interest in Barkley, thereby hoping to snag him in the first round. If so, Wolf isn’t sure if that’s a wise thing to do.
“I think (Barkley is) going to be very solid for someone,” Wold said. “I just don’t know if he’s going to be considered a great – or even really good – NFL quarterback.”