Matt Barkley, the USC junior quarterback, just surprised a lot of people by announcing he’s going to return to the Trojans for his senior season, which automatically makes them a favorite to do some very big things next year.
Safety T.J. McDonald is also coming back, so those bold proclamations by coach Lane Kiffin about competing to win a national title next year are gaining more traction.
You can say Barkley is a fool passing up a chance to be drafted high in the NFL, and he was widely seen as a guy who would go very early, probably top 10. But I never come down on a guy who wants to savor the college experience — whatever it means to him — for one more year.
It’s also a continuation of a trend that has seen quarterbacks in the Pac-12 stick around longer than many assumed. Jake Locker did it last year, and so did Andrew Luck, who would have been bypassing two seasons (he’s already announced he’s leaving, but one year early). And there’s even some USC tradition to this, as Matt Leinart opted for his senior season back in 2005, against conventional wisdom. (Mark Sanchez later upset then-Trojans coach Pete Carroll by jumping ship early, so he’s an exception here.)
So 2012 will make for an interesting year for the Trojans, who are off bowl probation, but who begin scholarship sanctions in February. They’re limited to signing 15 players rather than the usual maximum 25, but that figures to have little impact on their future next year.