Quarterback Matt Barkley is at peace with end of USC career

Matt Barkley winces in pain after being sacked during USC's loss to UCLA.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

EL PASO — Matt Barkley looked and sounded at peace on Thursday.

Moments earlier, his USC career officially ended when Coach Lane Kiffin announced that the injured senior quarterback would not play Monday in the Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.

The declaration, a foregone conclusion after Barkley had not practiced for weeks, provided an unceremonious finish to Barkley’s season and record-setting career.


“It’s not what I thought would happen, it’s not what I think is the most ideal situation, but at the same time I do have peace,” said Barkley, who will continue to rehabilitate his right shoulder in preparation for the NFL draft. “I know that whatever the case is right now, I can make it into a great case come April, which is essentially what my goal is now.”

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Redshirt freshman Max Wittek will start in place of Barkley for the second consecutive game.

“It was Matt’s game to play or not play,” Wittek said. “But now that I know that, I’ll just get back to preparation.”

Barkley’s season effectively ended Nov. 17 when UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr sacked him during the fourth quarter of USC’s 38-28 loss at the Rose Bowl, injuring Barkley’s throwing arm.

Though Barkley has been performing rehab exercises, he and Kiffin said doctors determined that he was not sufficiently healed to play in the Sun Bowl. And with the NFL pre-draft evaluation approaching, Barkley was not about to risk further injury.

“I’ve worked as hard as I could to get back for this game, and nature’s not allowing it and doctors aren’t allowing it,” he said.

Barkley finished his career with a 64.1% completion percentage and 12,327 passing yards. He passed for a Pac-12 Conference record 116 touchdowns, with 48 interceptions, and was 34-13 in 47 starts.

Kiffin described it as “a great career,” adding that Barkley’s won-loss record was hindered by Trojans defenses that did not compare to those of the recent past.

Barkley will be best remembered for steering the Trojans through a transition from former coach Pete Carroll to Kiffin, for enduring through NCAA sanctions that included a two-year bowl ban, and for remaining at USC for a final season rather than entering the draft.

“A lot happened,” he said. “It wasn’t your typical quarterback career.”

A victory at Ohio State in 2009, wins over Oregon and UCLA in 2011 and the reception he received from the Coliseum crowd after establishing a Pac-12 record for career touchdown passes in October rank among his fondest memories, Barkley said, along with “off-the-field stuff, in the locker room, a lot of things that aren’t even public that I’ll cherish.”

Barkley had hoped to lead the Trojans to the Bowl Championship Series title game. Instead, they finished the regular season 7-5.

“Definitely a learning lesson, and not something that I could have imagined,” he said, “but then again, nothing’s guaranteed when you strive for something.”

Early this month, Barkley hinted at frustration over Kiffin’s play-calling, telling radio and television host Dan Patrick that the Trojans, at times, focused too much on sophomore receiver Marqise Lee and that “we could have done a better job of utilizing other players.”

Asked Thursday if he could expand on the comment, Barkley said, “I think what I said was enough. I’m not here to bash anyone. I’m not the play-caller when it comes down to it.”

Asked if there was anything he would have liked to have done more of, individually, in the offense this season, he said, “Certain specific things. But, you know, it’s between the coaching staff and me.”

So Barkley will turn his attention to preparing for the draft. He said it was natural to assume that his stock had fallen.

But he also said he would be “in the perfect position come April,” after he starts throwing passes and goes through the interview process with NFL teams.

“I have no doubt that I’ll be where I need to be,” he said, adding, “I’m not worried about it.”