USC Trojans to open 2013 Season with Ongoing QB Battle

usc-trojans-quarterback-starterUSC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin knew that he’d have a quarterback battle on his hands entering this season. But he didn’t quite expect the battle to last until the Trojans’ season opener against Hawaii.

Following a full offseason evaluation, Kiffin said that it was too close to call between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. In fact, the USC coaching staff won’t even pick the nominal starter is until they arrive in Honolulu. So now both sophomores will receive significant playing time against the Rainbow Warriors.

“That really is how well both guys did,” Kiffin said after his decision. “For us, we look at it as a great thing. We’ve got two guys that we feel great about. We don’t feel like we have to limit our offense with either one of them in there. They’ve both done so well, made so many plays.

max-wittek-football“It didn’t show itself that one guy was above the other guy, so we do it all the time with other positions. We’re not going to be stubborn and name a starter just because we’re supposed to, or that’s what we’ve done for 100 years, or whatever that is. We’ve got to do with all of our decisions what’s best for our team.”

When evaluating the quarterbacks, the general consensus is that Wittek has a stronger arm. Plus he has game experience, having started last season’s final two games when four-year starter Matt Barkley was injured. He finished the 2012 season with 388 passing yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s and a 52.2% completion rate.

As for Kessler, he’s considered more mobile than Wittek and is a very resourceful player when plays break down. Kessler also played better in camp this month, which has pushed USC coaches to a high level of indecisiveness.

Playing two quarterbacks in the opener wasn’t the way that Kiffin wanted to start the 2013-14 college football season. So he set out to pick a starter between Wittek, Kessler and touted freshman Max Browne. The latter was taken out of the mix halfway through August’s camp, which left Kessler and Wittek fighting for the starting job.

Now, the most important position on the field is much like the rest of USC’s depth chart – full of spots where multiple players will play. Tailback and fullback are two other notable positions where duel starters have been named.

cody-kesslerKiffin will definitely be hoping that his depth can translate into more victories from the previous season. After a promising 6-1 start for the preseason number one-ranked team, they stumbled the rest of the year, losing five out of their last six contests.

In 2013, the Trojans open with a #24 ranking and a lot less pressure. They don’t play a preseason-ranked team until October 19th, when they travel to South Bend to face #14 Notre Dame. Other difficult ranked opponents include #25 Oregon State (away), #4 Stanford (home) and #21 UCLA (home).

How the quarterback situation plays out will go a long ways towards determining how the USC Trojans handle these opponents, and if they can get to a major bowl game.

Matt Barkley sees Unprecedented Fall in 2013 NFL Draft

matt-barkley-nfl-draftThis year, Barkley will be a Junior and it may be his last year playing for the Trojans before he takes his talents to the NFL. I have watched every game of Barkley since he became a Trojan and I am confident that he will be a top 5 pick whenever he decides to come out.

These were the words NFLMocks used to describe Matt Barkley towards the end of his junior year at USC. The top 5 pick sentiment was something that was shared by many NFL GM’s and scouts back in these days. And Barkley did turn out to be a top 5 pick….of the fourth round.

The disappointed QB’s free fall finally ended on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft, when the Philadelphia Eagles took him with the first pick of the fourth round. And while plenty of great quarterbacks have been drafted at this point or later, they certainly didn’t have the pedigree of Matt Barkley.

matt-barkley-nfl-draft-1While quarterbacking Santa Ana Mater Dei High School, Barkley gained considerable attention for winning the Gatorade National Player of the Year award in his junior season. As the nation’s number one QB prospect, he would go on to become the first true freshman in USC history to start.

The hype rapidly built long before Barkley even threw an official pass at USC. “I’m going on record now to say … three years Matt Barkley – who will be a true freshman this year – will be the No. 1 pick in the draft. Three years from now,” said ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper.

Things got off to a mediocre start for Barkley in his freshman season as he led the Trojans to a 9-4 record, while throwing for 2,735 yards, 15 TD’s and 14 INT’s. His sophomore year was better statistically as the 6’2″ signal caller tallied 2,791 yards, 26 TD’s and 12 INT’s; however, USC limped to an 8-5 record.

matt-barkley-nfl-draft-2But Barkley’s junior year is when he really exploded after throwing for 3,528 yards, 39 TD’s, just 6 INT’s, and led USC to a 10-2 record. Based on all of this, it’s no wonder why he was the Hesiman Trophy favorite in his senior year. And Barkley’s decision to return was particularly shocking when you consider that he was a projected top 10 pick in the 2012 Draft.

Perhaps the Newport Beach, California native should’ve left because the 2012 season was a disaster for USC, which started as the number one-ranked team in preseason polls. This ranking quickly vanished as they lost to the Stanford Cardinals to open the Pac-10 season. After winning their next four games, the Trojans dropped five out of their last six contests to finish at a dismal 7-6 – quite possibly the worst that a top-ranked preseason team has ever done.

Barkley put up solid numbers with 3,287 yards, 36 TD’s and 15 INT’s during this campaign. However, his 2013 NFL Draft stock plummeted for a variety of reasons and cost him somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 – $15 million.

So what happened between the end of 2011 and 2012? First off, scouts found a lot more flaws in Barkley’s game after he led USC to a 7-6 season – namely average arm strength and dancing feet in the pocket.

He also suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out of the Sun Bowl and prevented him from throwing at the Combine in Indianapolis. This is about the worst thing that could’ve happened to Barkley after USC coach Lane Kiffin convinced him to stay. And when he did work out for scouts at USC’s pro day, his performance was less than inspiring.

matt-barkley-nfl-draft-3Finally, Barkley is now a year older with another season of wear and tear on him. And when an injury causes more tear, this is never something that will improve your draft status.

If there’s any silver lining to this story, it’s that Barkley is taking the draft slide pretty well. He said, “I’m just glad I know where my home is and I can’t wait to hit the playbook.” Barkley also stated, “I stayed positive this whole time, and haven’t looked back. I’m blessed that the Eagles believe in me and are willing to give me a chance. And I’m looking forward from here on out. And no matter where you end, it’s just the beginning of the next chapter, next story of your life.”

The next chapter will see Matt Barkley trying to distinguish himself in a muddled, five-quarterback situation in Philadelphia. Michael Vick is the frontrunner so far; but he certainly isn’t a lock to start after a dismal, injury-plagued 2012 and a new coach in Chip Kelly.

Nick Foles should also get a crack at the starting job after throwing for 1,699 yards, 6 TD’s and 5 INT’s while filling in for Vick. Dennis Dixon is another intriguing candidate here since he quarterbacked Kelly’s Oregon team in 2007 and served as a backup on the Ravens’ 2012 NFL championship team.

It’s difficult to say where Barkley fits into this situation. But no matter if he ends up as the starter or taking practice squad reps, he’ll be making far less money than if he’d came out last year.

The Californian is probably going to sign something in the range of a four-year contract worth $2.5 million with a $500,000 signup bonus. However, this is a far cry from the $15 million or so he would’ve received as a top 10 pick. That said, Barkley will definitely serve as a cautionary tale to top NFL prospects for years to come.

College Football Power Rankings – 2012 Championship Week Edition

We’re now down to the final week before bowl games are decided and the BCS title matchup is figured out. As for the latter, we’re simply waiting to decide who undefeated Notre Dame plays for the championship. At this point, Alabama appears to be in control of their own destiny, but that destiny won’t be easy to reach with a game against third-ranked Georgia looming ahead. Let’s discuss these three teams and more in our latest power rankings.

1. Alabama (11-1) – Throughout most of the season, many people thought Alabama would never be beaten. However, they lost a close game against Texas A&M a couple weeks ago and were sent into a tailspin. But Alabama has since recovered and looked marvelous during a beatdown of rival Auburn.

Last Game: 49-0 win over Auburn
Next Game: vs. Georgia (SEC Championship)

2. Ntore Dame (12-0) – Is it fair that the Irish drop a spot from our previous power rankings following a road win against USC? First off, Notre Dame got a break when Matt Barkley was sidelined with an injury, leaving freshman Max Wittek to make his first career start. Secondly, the Irish have won most of their games in ugly, defensive battles. They get a chance to prove all of the critics wrong in the BCS Championship though.

Last Game: 22-13 win over USC
Next Game: TBD (BCS Championship)

3. Ohio State (12-0) – It’s never easy to cap off an undefeated season – just ask Oregon, Kansas State or Alabama. However, the Buckeyes did pull off this impressive accomplishment and deserve some credit. They probably would’ve been playing the Irish in Miami had it not been for NCAA sanctions.

Last Game: 26-21 win over Michigan
Season is finished

4. Oregon (11-1) – Just three weeks ago, Oregon was riding high and looking at a clear shot at the BCS Championship game. Now they won’t even get to play in the Pac-10 Championship game due to the Stanford loss. It’ll be interesting to see what bowl game the Ducks land in now.

Last Game: 48-24 win over Oregon State
Next Game: TBD

5. Georgia (11-1) – While we consider the Bulldogs to be just a little less good than the top four teams on this list, none of it means anything if they can win the SEC title. Essentially, this matchup with Alabama is like a big playoff game before the championship.

Last Game: 42-10 win over Georgia Tech
Next Game: vs. Alabama (SEC Championship)

6. Texas A&M (10-2) – If the season restarted today, A&M could possibly be the top team in the eyes of voters. Johnny “Football” Manziel took another step closer to winning the Heisman after throwing for 372 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri.

Last Game: 59-29 win over Missouri
Next Game: TBD

7. Florida (11-1) – Despite having one loss, the Gators dropped out of our top 10 rankings after some atrocious offensive performances. However, they leaped back into our rankings after beating ACC standout and rival Florida State. Now they could be Sugar Bowl-bound.

Last Game: 37-26 win over Florida State
Next Game: TBD

8. Stanford (10-2) – The Cardinals easily defeated UCLA to set up a rematch between these two teams in the Pac-10 Championship. Based on this road game blowout, we have to heavily favor Stanford in the rematch as well.

Last Game: 35-17 win over UCLA
Next Game: vs. UCLA (Pac-10 Championship)

9. LSU (10-2) – While the Tigers did nothing deserving of dropping two spots in our power rankings, other teams just shined more in the last week of the regular season. With Florida, Georgia and Alabama fighting over two BCS bowl bids, LSU is left out of the party.

Last Game: 20-13 win over Arkansas
Next Game: TBD

10. Kansas State (10-1)  – K-State is just one of those teams that got lost in the shuffle at season’s end. Of course, getting blown out by a mediocre Baylor team will do that to you. It’ll also put an end to any Heisman hopes that Collin Klein had.

Last Game: Bye
Next Game: TBD

College Football Power Rankings for Oct. 31st, 2012

It hasn’t been easy sorting out college football’s elite this year because there’s a logjam of stellar unbeaten teams.  Alabama, Oregon, Notre Dame and Kansas State have all proven themselves worthy of a title shot after surviving a tough schedule and looking good while doing so. Assuming all of these teams can remain undefeated, they’ll give the BCS computers fits. Speaking of the BCS, here is how the current rankings look:

1. Alabama
2. Kansas State
3. Notre Dame
4. Oregon
5. LSU
6. Georgia
7. Florida
8. South Carolina
9. Florida State
10. Louisville

This is how the BCS computers currently see things, but let’s move on to our interpretation of the top 10 college football teams.

Week 10 College Football Power Rankings

1. Alabama (8-0) – The Crimson Tide continue to roll after dispatching a previously unbeaten Mississippi State team. Their 31.7-point margin of victory truly shows the dominance of Alabama this season despite playing some pretty good teams. This week they’ll be playing a great team in LSU, which has just one loss on the season.

Last Game: 38-7 win over Mississippi State
Next Game: at LSU Tigers

2. Oregon Ducks (8-0) Despite running over many of their opponents so far, the Ducks are losing the BCS battle. However, they have a solid chance to jump Notre Dame if they can handily beat USC on the road this week. The key to this involves slowing down Matt Barkley and star receivers Robert Woods and Marqise Lee.

Last Game: 70-14 win over Colorado
Next Game: at USC Trojans

3. Kansas State (8-0) – After an easy victory over ninth-ranked Texas Tech, K-State looks to have a clear road to the Big 12 Championship Game. Assuming they can stay unbeaten and continue racking up convincing victories, the Wildcats could be eyeing Alabama in the National Championship.

Last Game: 55-24 win over Texas Tech
Next Game: vs. Oklahoma State

4. Notre Dame (8-0) – At this point, it’s almost like splitting hairs between the Fighting Irish and Kansas State. Notre Dame grabbed their own impressive victory on the road in Norman, Oklahoma. Despite playing such as tough schedule, the Irish may need an Alabama or K-State loss to get into the title game.

5. Georgia (7-1) – As if the top isn’t jumbled enough, things don’t get any simpler when it comes to one-loss teams. In our opinion, Georgia has a slight lead among the rest of the pack following a game where their defense dominated previously unbeaten Florida. With wins over Ole Miss and rival Auburn, the Bulldogs could face Alabama in the SEC Championship.

Last Game: 17-9 win over Florida
Next Game: vs. Ole Miss

6. LSU (7-1) – You could make an argument for LSU being ahead of Georgia at this point, and the Tigers will have a chance to prove their case against Alabama. But based on the dominance that the Crimson Tide have shown so far, it’ll be a tough home game for LSU. Even still, don’t count this team out since they boast plenty of talent.

Last Game: 24-19 win over Texas A&M
Next Game: vs. Alabama

7. Florida (7-1) – Just about everything went wrong for the Gators in an ugly outing against Georgia last Saturday. Several turnovers now have Florida on the outside looking-in. In a crowded SEC, the best they can hope for at this point is an at-large BCS bowl bid – even with just one loss.

Last Game: 17-9 loss against Georgia
Next Game: vs Missouri

8. Ohio State Buckeyes (8-0) – Entering last week’s game against Penn State, the Bucks knew that they’d have to slow down QB Matt McGloin. And OSU linebacker Ryan Shazier did just this as he picked McGloin off and went to the house. Everything is set up for the probation-ridden Bucks to meet their hated rivals, Michigan, with an unblemished record.

Last Game: 35-23 win over Penn State
Next Game: vs. Illinois

9. Oklahoma Sooners (5-2) – Oklahoma may have two losses, but they’ve both come to powerhouses in Kansas State and Notre Dame. This being said, the Sooners are better than a lot of the one-loss teams out there right now.

Last Game: 30-13 loss to Notre Dame
Next Game: at Iowa State

10. Florida State (8-1) – The Seminoles have done a good job in overcoming an earlier loss at N.C. State. And while the BCS Championship may be out of the question – mainly due to the lack of respect for the ACC – Florida State is currently in the driver’s seat for a big bowl game.

Last Game: 48-7 win over Duke
Next Game: at Virginia Tech (Nov. 8)