The Heisman Trophy is the most prestigious award a college football player can earn; and yet, like the BCS, its internal processes remain an imperfect science. In the case of USC junior quarterback Matt Barkley, it represents the perfect snub. Without question, the five finalists are all loaded with credentials and, perhaps more importantly, all but one is loaded with signature moments. Robert Griffin III had his big win over Oklahoma on a Saturday night when the entire country was watching. Montee Ball (1,759 yards, 32 touchdowns) destroyed Michigan State in the Big Ten Championship; Trent Richardson lit up everyone; and Tyrann Mathieu was a defensive menace all year-long, capped by two incredible punt returns in the SEC title game.
Then there is Andrew Luck. The surefire No. 1 pick in April's NFL Draft, Luck has had another brilliant season and led Stanford to an 11-1 record. But the signature moment that we all love? It's sorely lacking. Make no mistake, I think Luck will be a super prolific quarterback as a pro and will win a ton of games. And I do believe that he deserves to be a finalist. But, from a pure numbers standpoint, Barkley is better.
He has more touchdowns (39) than Luck (35); fewer interceptions (7 and 9, respectively) and is just one point worse in completion percentage. Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that Luck shouldn't be finalist. However, if you are going to include him, you absolutely have to include Barkley. The junior's conference record of 39 touchdown passes is also more than RGIII, Ball and Richardson. For what it's worth, it's also better than former USC Heisman-winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart.
I have, admittedly, been wrong about the USC team already once this season. To his credit, Lane Kiffin has coached up this team and, despite the NCAA sanctions, has gotten them to buy in to his system and overall philosophy.
Offensively, this team overcame a slow start to become an aerial juggernaut. Barkley threw four touchdowns at Autzen Stadium to upset then fourth-ranked Oregon, only to tie his own school record by tossing six more against UCLA in a 50-0 romp.
Of course, if Barkley is a finalist, then you are faced with the tough task of deciding who needs to go. While all the candidates are worthy, it's Tyrann Mathieu, aka the "Honey Badger," who is most replaceable. A defensive player hasn't won the award since Charles Woodson did in 1997. Mathieu, a diminutive, yet overly physical cornerback, actually has many of Woodson's traits: He is a true shutdown artist on the perimeter, a sound tackler and a dynamic returner. While he doesn't have the size of former teammate Patrick Peterson, he is perhaps an even more gifted pure cover man on the country's premier defense. But is he really more deserving than Barkley, who put together one of the greatest seasons in Pac-12 history?
While some might point to Mathieu's one-game suspension as an argument against his candidacy, I refuse to go there. It is more relevant to focus on Barkley's performance than on what little Mathieu -- still just a sophomore -- hasn't done.
Akin to Luck, Barkley is a prototypical pocket passer who excels before the snap with his reads and has all of the tools to make every throw at any time. While he shows a tendency to struggle under duress, Barkley overcomes it with fearless decisions in the tightest of windows. He has a huge arm and even more audacity. He threw for over 3,500 yards and led a probation-laden team to a top five ranking. That is really, really hard to do.
If this snub has anything to do with the sanctions, that is a joke in itself. The 900-plus voters should know better than to let that affect who goes to New York and who doesn't. The USC program isn't allowed to play in a bowl game -- that's fine. But any rational person who has followed Barkley this season cannot say this kid is not one of the five best college football players in America.
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