Barkley, Luck: Closer Than They Appear

Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley are comparable, at least on paper. And while Luck has the edge in intangibles, Barkley can use Saturday to prove he's worth being in the 'first-round pick conversation.'

When comparing two luxury cars, what is the difference between a Mercedes and a BMW?

Both are sleek, smooth rides, accompanied by heavy price tags and head-turning capability.

So when that fat check comes before your eyes and you're ready to sign, what's the difference between taking home a shiny new S550 or 750I?

NFL owners have to weigh the same lofty options come draft time, particularly in choosing a franchise quarterback. When league owners wager over picks just ahead of the draft, like the choice of an expensive car, the difference between elite quarterbacks may be quite minimal.

On Saturday, those differences will be magnified as Stanford's Andrew Luck and USC's Matt Barkley, two draft-eligible juniors projected to be the best quarterbacks in the Class of 2012, face off in the Los Angeles Coliseum under microscopic lights.

And while scouts and NFL writers are quick to declare Luck the next great college quarterback since John Elway, Barkley isn't watching a roadster speed past him.

"This is not like watching Secretariat coming down the backstretch," private quarterback coach George Whitfield said of comparing Luck to Barkley.

Whitfield, who has coached the likes of Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger, evaluates quarterbacks on a daily basis. He believes it's difficult to compare college quarterbacks to one another.

"I know every year we have to crown a kid, but that crown only holds up if he matches the kid from a year before you," Whitfield said.

But that "crown" hasn't been placed on any one head just yet. So while they won't directly "face" one another, Saturday's marquee matchup becomes food for scouts to decide which ride they like best. And when you do compare, the similarities are uncanny:

Both are elite college quarterbacks at high-profile Pac-12 conference schools.

Both lead their pro-style offenses.

Both had renowned coaches, who both moved on to the NFL, as former Stanford Coach Jim Harbaugh took the reigns with the San Francisco 49ers and former USC Coach Pete Carroll with the Seattle Seahawks.

Both are durable. Barkley and Luck have each started at least 30 games in their careers.

Both put up "wow" numbers: this season both have rushed for a touchdown, have been intercepted less than five times and have at least 19 touchdowns a piece. In three years starting for their teams, both have amassed more than 7,500 yards in total offense.

Both are perfect for any team's locker room. They live relatively low-key lives. You never see either of them in scandalous headlines or in pictures partying.

"Where I think maybe there was a flaw in somebody that you're always trying to change, he really just does every aspect of what you want on and off the field, right," current USC coach Lane Kiffin said of Barkley.

"I feel like the guy is… we don't want to build him up too much, but the problem is, there are not a lot of flaws. More than anything else, there's not a lot of things you want to change that he needs to get better at," current Stanford coach David Shaw said of Luck.

Both hate to lose. And aren't very good at it, either. Stanford is riding a 15-game winning streak heading into Saturday's showdown against USC, whereas Barkley's team has lost just one game this season, on the road at Arizona State.

So what are the minimal differences, then?

For starters, their frames. Luck stands at 6-4, 235 pounds whereas the Southern Californian is 6-2, 220. And while Luck seems to have the prototypical build, last year's class of quarterbacks landed somewhere in between the two. The 12 signalcallers taken in the 2011 draft had an average height of 6'3 1/2 and weight of 230 pounds.

Secondly, their athleticism. Luck is more skilled out of the pocket, running when receivers are covered. Barkley tends to roll out as a last resort and doesn't look the most comfortable while doing so. And when they need to bounce back after an interception or fumble? Barkley becomes more Brady-like, not as receptive to hitting people, while Luck is ready to clock any guy that comes in his team's way (see Shareece Wright, 2010).

"I can run. Every once in a while. I don't know. I think there's a lot of pros and cons [between Luck and I]," Barkley said.

Another such con might be the two's varying football intelligence. Luck, a mechanical engineer major at one of the most academically sound institutions in America, seems to have full autonomy of his offense at times, using a no-huddle approach often, incredibly rare for a quarterback at the college level.

While Barkley is also 'geeky' in his own right, proclaiming a love for the latest gadgets and technology, much of his playcalling is handled by USC's coaching staff and the program is arguably filled with more skilled receivers than Luck has at his disposal.

But in terms of environmental adjustments, Barkley reigns superior. A product from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, he was the first freshman to start on varsity for his high school since Todd Marinovich in 1985. Barkley was also the first USC quarterback ever to start a season opener as a freshman and has been the face of a frenzied program marked by NCAA sanctions, a new coaching staff, a variety of players transferring and other setbacks.

"If you think about it, he's never had to sit back and learn from someone else's leadership," USC safety T.J. McDonald said.

Shaw, formerly Stanford's offensive coordinator, became the Cardinal head coach after Harbaugh's departure, a relatively easier transition than one Barkley faced when controversial coach Lane Kiffin left Tennessee to join the Trojans.

Another intangible where Barkley has the advantage is his well-roundedness. Whether it's his Scottish accents, guitar playing or public love for the singer Taylor Swift, Barkley seems like a truly normal college student.

Luck, on the other hand, whipped out a humorous beard at Pac-12 media day, but doesn't speak with the same complacency or comfortability as Barkley. Off the field, Luck doesn't "own the room" like a typical quarterback.

But still, despite what appears to be a slim difference between the two leaders, Luck is higher on draft boards and is being heralded as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of college football.

For Barkley, who has become accustomed to underdog odds all season as well as unforeseen circumstances in his three years at the helm for USC, Saturday seems like an opportunistic situation to show that the two quarterbacks' margin of difference is, truly, minimal.

Just like two similarly-priced foreign cars. If they have four doors and they both go from 0 to 60 in less than the time it takes to read this sentence, then the only variation becomes a minor detail like the vehicle's logo.

But no matter which car you choose, the writing on both sideview mirrors remains the same: these two elite quarterbacks 'might be closer than they appear.'


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