Barkley officially ruled out of bowl game; USC career over

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In early December, Lane Kiffin expressed confidence that Matt Barkley would be recovered enough from a shoulder injury to play in USC’s bowl game.  Less than a week ago, it looked doubtful the senior would take the field for what would be the final game of his collegiate career.

With the Trojans’ Sun Bowl matchup with Georgia Tech just four days away, the will he/won’t he question has finally and officially been answered.

In an announcement that seemed to be a foregone conclusion for at least a week, Kiffin confirmed Thursday that Barkley will not play in USC’s first postseason game since the quarterback’s freshman season.  Barkley suffered the shoulder injury in the UCLA loss and missed the regular-season finale against Notre Dame because of it.

Kiffin said Barkley wanted to play, but doctors would not medically clear him to do so. “I’ll be here with my team to finish strong. Proud to be a Trojan!” Barkley wrote in a tweet posted to his Twitter account.

As was the case in the game against the Irish, Max Wittek will get the start at quarterback for the Trojans, Kiffin confirmed.

And, just like that, one of the most star-crossed careers a high-profile player at the FBS level has endured in many a year has come to an end.

Barkley was a highly-touted five-star member of USC’s 2009 recruiting class, rated as the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 5 player at any position in the country.  After enrolling early in January of 2009, the Newport Beach, Calif., native won the starting job coming out of that first spring practice and went on to start 47 of the 50 games the Trojans played during his four-year career, with the only three games he missed due to an injury his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons.  The Trojans were 34-13 in games in which Barkley started, 0-3 in games he didn’t.

As expected from a player who both started nearly four dozen games and played in a pass-happy offense, Barkley set a slew of school and conference records during his statistically prolific career.  He currently owns 20 USC career, season and game records, 10 of which are Pac-12 marks, including career total offense (12,214), passing yards (12,327), completions (1,011), passing touchdowns (116) and rushing/passing touchdowns (122).  The school records owned by Barkley include most career 400-yard passing games (4); most career 300-yard passing games (15); most yards passing, game (493); and most touchdown passes, game (six, twice).

Despite all of the shiny numbers, Barkley’s career was marked by a series of disappointments, none more so than the NCAA sanctions that throttled the football program.  Thanks to the punitive measures levied by The Association over the Reggie Bush impermissible benefits scandal, USC was banned from participating in the postseason — including the inaugural Pac-12 championship game last year as well as bowl games — in 2010 and 2011.  So, thanks to those sanctions plus this injury, Barkley’s career will end with just one bowl appearance — the 2009 Emerald Bowl, a 24-13 win over Boston College.

Another oddity when it comes to a player of Barkley’s status and as the holder of a handful of conference records?  He never once was named to the first-team All-Pac-12 squads in any of his four seasons, and just once (2011) did he earn second-team all-conference honors.  In 2010 and then again this season, he was named honorable mention.

The biggest disappointment, though, might’ve been this season.  Entering 2012 ranked as the No. 1 team in the country by the Associated Press, and No. 3 according to the coaches, the Trojans lost four of their last five games to finish a disappointing regular season at 7-5.

Barkley also entered 2012 as the prohibitive Heisman front-runner before giving way to the likes of Geno Smith, Collin Klein and eventual winner Johnny Manziel.  Instead of Barkley, it was teammate and wide receiver Marqise Lee receiving the Heisman push from USC at season’s end, with the true sophomore finishing fourth in the balloting and just missing a trip to New York City as one of the Heisman finalists.

Losses and turnovers were the story of Barkley’s final season at the Los Angeles school, with the former number of five matching 2010 for the most in Barkley’s tenure. After throwing just seven interceptions in 446 attempts last season, Barkley set a career-high with 15 in 387 attempts this year.

The subpar 2012 season both personally and team-wise came nearly a year after Barkley eschewed what would’ve been a surefire shot at being top-10 selection in the April NFL draft for another year with the Trojans.  That decision could prove to be costly for Barkley as, even given the utter dearth of top-shelf talent at his position, he’s considered at the moment by many a draft observer to be a late first-round pick.

QB controversy in Tuscaloosa? Freshman Tua Tagovailoa impresses at Alabama spring game

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Alabama’s annual A-Day spring game took place at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday and those tuning in to the Crimson team’s last minute 27-24 win over the White team had to be especially impressed with the Tide’s explosive offense under new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.

In particular that comes at the quarterback position, where there might be more of a controversy at the spot than first thought. Incumbent Jalen Hurts was very sharp on his downfield passes but his strong outing (301 yards, two touchdowns, one interception) was overshadowed by true freshman Tua Tagovailoa, who simply stole the show down in Tuscaloosa.

The early enrollee signal-caller from Hawaii jumped onto the scene in the first half of the game and wound up completing 17 passes for 313 yards, three touchdowns and an interception while working with both the first- and second-team offenses. You could normally dismiss numbers put up against a team’s second-string defense, this is Alabama we’re talking about so you know it’s coming against numerous future All-SEC players.

Tagovailoa did throw a pick-six in the second quarter but that was mostly because linebacker Terrell Hall made an unbelievable play on a swing pass to snatch the ball out of the air and run it all the way back to the opposite end zone. Freshman tailback Najee Harris (70 yards rushing) as well as stud wide receivers Calvin Ridley, Robert Foster and Jerry Jeudy (134 yards, two scores) also stood out on Saturday.

In all, offense ruled the day as the two quarterbacks combined for over 600 yards through the air. That probably won’t make reviewing film with Nick Saban all that pleasant for members of the secondary next week but was probably good news to most fans after lackluster performances down the stretch to end last season.

Either way, everybody should probably start brushing up on how to pronounce Tagovailoa even if he doesn’t ultimately unseat Hurts as the starter because the young QB has lived up to the early billing by recruiting analysts.

Baylor freshman tailback Abram Smith out for the season with spring ACL tear

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Baylor kicked off the first spring game of the Matt Rhule era on Saturday and wrapped things up with a 65-39 Gold team victory over the Green squad that included a pretty impressive touchdown catch from former basketball player Ish Wainright.

The news wasn’t all rosy in Waco however as after the game Rhule announced that freshman running back Abram Smith would be lost for the 2017 season after suffering an ACL tear in the Bears’ first spring practice.

Smith wasn’t being counted on as being a starter this season but his loss is a fairly big blow to the team’s depth at the position. Returnees JaMycal Hasty and Terence Williams already missed parts of the spring game due to injuries on Saturday, leaving just senior Wyatt Schrepfer to take most of the carries late in the contest.

All three figure to be good to go by the time fall camp rolls around but there’s not much behind them with Smith being lost for the year. A three-star recruit coming out of high school, the early enrollee likely would have seen some snaps in 2017 but will instead have to spend it redshirting on the bench.

Brian Kelly takes the blame for Notre Dame’s struggles last season

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Notre Dame wrapped up spring football with the Irish’s annual spring game on NBC Sports Network on Saturday afternoon in South Bend and front and center was not surprisingly head coach Brian Kelly.

While fans of the team were probably most interested in how quarterback Brandon Wimbush looked, Kelly did go into detail about what the offseason has been like after last year’s disappointing 4-8 campaign. While the coach has been known to be a bit defensive when it comes to the team’s struggles, he did open up during a sit-down interview and was transparent in taking the blame for the way 2016 went.

“When you have a losing season, you have to look at yourself first,” Kelly told NBC Sports’ Jac Collinsworth. “I’ve always felt like there isn’t a bad football team but there is bad leadership and I don’t think I provided the kind of leadership (last year). It starts with yourself.”

Kelly goes on to discuss the significant changes to the Irish coaching staff, how this team is very much a work in progress and how Wimbush is handling taking over as the starting signal-caller.

The Gold team ended up winning the spring game 27-14 over the Blue team behind a strong defensive performance. If Saturday’s outing was any indication, Notre Dame should be much improved this upcoming season and that seems to start from the top on down.

SEC commissioner confirms graduate transfer rule changes will be discussed at spring meetings

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We’re still over a month away from the SEC’s annual spring meetings down in Destin, Fla. but one item we might be able to confirm is on the agenda will be the graduate transfer rules for the conference.

It’s a hot topic around the league and particularly so at Florida, which is in the mix to land Notre Dame graduate transfer Malik Zaire but can’t officially take him due to restrictions from the conference office.

That may change however, as SEC commissioner Greg Sankey confirmed in a radio interview on Friday with ESPN Gainesville.

“It will come up,” Sankey said, according to SECCountry.com. “I do think we need to look where we’ve been restrictive in the past because of the absence of national rules and look at reducing some of those restrictions. I’m one who would position it as interest in freeing things up without just removing every restraint, because I think the restraints have been healthy for us.”

At the heart of the issue is a rule that limits schools from taking additional graduate transfers if previous graduate transfers failed to meet academic requirements after enrolling. The move was designed to prevent a number of situations where players would transfer over just to play and not really go through coursework at their new school.

Other NCAA conferences have failed to follow the SEC’s lead in this area however and now the league is being put at a bit of a disadvantage on the graduate transfer market. This is particularly an issue with the Gators this offseason but it seems as though there will be quite the discussion down in Destin among athletic directors and head coaches about changing the rules to be on more of a level playing field with other conferences on this front.