If USC quarterback Matt Barkley stays for his senior season, he will be more than a champion. He will be a legend.
Sure, the Pac-12 and BCS titles will be in play with the two-year bowl ban now at an end, and USC will be strong favorites to win each. But Barkley would be playing for something more than home-field advantage the last week of the season, more than a trip to South Beach, more than the Heisman Trophy.
Barkley would be playing to become the most accomplished, renowned and beloved player in the illustrious history of USC.
The Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei product is already on the short list, owning the school records for completions in a game, touchdown passes in a game, passing yards in a game, total offense in a game, completion percentage in a season and touchdown passes in a season. His 39 touchdown passes this past season are also the most in Pac-12 history.
If he returns, Barkley would dominate the USC record book like no other. He needs 2,764 yards to become the all-time passing leader. As Kiffin reminded him with a text message Sunday morning, he needs 20 touchdown passes to top Matt Leinart and become the only Trojan and Pac-12 signal-caller with 100 career scoring tosses.
But beyond mere statistical wizardry, Barkley would be a four-year starter, a three-time captain, adding to his legacy as a leader in unprecedented times.
He served as the face of the program during a tumultuous year when Pete Carroll left for the NFL, Lane Kiffin arrived after an acrimonious exit from Tennessee and the NCAA slammed USC with the harshest penalties in decades.
Barkley never complained about the mantle, instead carrying on and going about his business. That attitude tricked down to the team this past season, as a young group worked hard, stayed together and restored USC to heights most believed would take a decade to reach once again.
"I look up to Matt Barkley," Kiffin said. "I know he is younger than me. Matt Barkley has been through a lot of adversity. For a kid at 19 to go in front of all you guys when basically all his dreams about football have been taken away, there's not many 39-year olds that can do that let alone 19-year olds.
"He's just unbelievable."
However, Barkley has already accomplished what he set out to do. He will complete his degree in the spring.
"It's not a hard decision," defensive tackle DaJohn Harris said. "He's going to be here for four years and get his degree. Student first, athlete second."
And short of lifting the Pac-12 championship and Heisman in December 2012 and crystal football in January 2013, there can't and won't be an exit like throwing his final pass to Robbie Boyer, his cousin but more like a brother to Barkley, in the Coliseum to put an exclamation point on a 50-0 rout of UCLA.
His draft stock will likely never be higher, especially giving scouts another year's worth of tape to pick apart.
The Trojans were remarkably healthy and caught some breaks en route to a 10-2 record.
That can't be duplicated.
There really doesn't seem to be any real reason for Barkley to return, except he has the appreciation of the school, the program and its history to understand what he could accomplish.
As Kiffin said, "Unless he just wants to do it to be a special Trojan, he ain't coming back."
Barkley might just be that special.