BCS or Bust?
Matt Barkley has accomplished much in his 4 years at USC. He has led his program to 3 consecutive winning seasons, with a fourth more than guaranteed. He has experienced a come-from-behind victory in the Columbus horseshoe, Trojan triumph in South Bend, and silenced the crowd at Autzen Stadium. But his resume still shows an incomplete, and his team sits dangerously close to leaving a blank in the space provided. With another loss, Barkley would become the first Trojan quarterback to not play in a BCS Bowl game since Mike Van Raaphorst and John Fox split the duty in 1999.
Barkley’s predecessors didn’t all win national championships or play in championship games, but the majority did make BCS appearances. Mark Sanchez passed the torch to Barkley, after a single season as a starter, and a Rose Bowl victory over Penn State. Before Sanchez, there was John David Booty, who twice led the Trojans to Pasadena on New Year’s Day. Matt Leinart appeared in two Rose Bowls and an Orange Bowl, earning a national championship in two of the three. Carson Palmer began slow, but eventually led his team to an Orange Bowl victory as a senior, in a year that also saw him win the Heisman Trophy.
NCAA sanctions denied Barkley a BCS Bowl appearance in 2011, which is the only year of his three where USC posted a record worthy of BCS consideration. He played in the 2009 Emerald Bowl as a freshman, as the Trojans lost four times in Pete Carroll’s final year. A trip to one of January’s elite bowl games was just one of many items on the “unfinished business” agenda, and that opportunity is now in jeopardy, with the Trojans sitting on two losses and the meat of the schedule remaining.
USC would be an easy pick for BCS Bowl committees, if eligible. The Trojans are a ratings juggernaut, and the fan base travels well. But to move into position for consideration, USC must finish in the top 14 of the BCS. It currently stands at No. 17, and a win over Oregon may give it an additional boost.
If the Trojans win out, they will earn an automatic BCS Bowl birth and represent the Pac 12 in the Rose Bowl as its champion. But winning out is simpler said in print than it is to accomplish on the field, when you look at the opponents standing in the way. The road to the Rose Bowl runs through Oregon and Notre Dame, with a potential second meeting with the Ducks. It also winds through Arizona State and rival UCLA, with a loss in any game shattering January dreams.
It is improbable that a three-loss team will finish high enough in the BCS standings to be eligible for consideration. So the situation for USC and Barkley, if there is any hope of adding his name among those that came before him, is to end the season on a 5-game win-streak. It’s BCS or bust the rest of the way, and the difference is often what separates players and legends.
Mark Sanchez-Rose Bowl MVP 2009
John David Booty-Rose Bowl MVP 2008
Matt Leinart-Orange Bowl MVP 2005
Matt Leinart-Rose Bowl MVP 2004
Carson Palmer-Orange Bowl MVP 2003