When senior quarterback Matt Barkley decided to return to Troy for his senior season to complete what he dubbed "unfinished business," he probably didn't even dream it could start like this.
Wasn't the worst-case scenario returning another year and falling short in a national championship game? Losing the Heisman race? Settling for the Rose Bowl?
Losing the Pac-12 conference opener to Stanford, a team the Trojans have now lost to four-straight times for the first time in school history, could not have made his list.
That was evident by Barkley's reaction following the loss. It was painful to watch the 22-year old sit in front of the media and have to answer questions. So painful in fact, that hardly any questions were fired his way. It was said time and again that the storylines heading into Saturday's matchup were endless, but the questions following the loss, were not. The reality in the room was thick and heavy. It's been a season of hearing "Prep not Hype," and "unfinished business."
Those words, right now, seem to have been a trap. The words danced around a set of facts. Beating Stanford would mean preparation. Getting the win that's eluded Barkley for three years would mean he's finishing business.
Right now, the catchphrases are making the fall harder.
"He's pretty beat up mentally and physically," said USC Coach Lane Kiffin on Sunday evening's conference call, "You can imagine the disappointment of a 22-year-old after you come back and all you put into it."
"The played better football than us," Barkley said following the game Saturday. He also said his Trojans would stick together and rebound. It was an unconvincing statement at the time, but what else is there for Barkley and the Trojans to do?
After studying the game film, Kiffin said his senior quarterback made two of the worst decisions of the three years they have spent together at USC. Those two decisions were made seconds apart and resulted in back-to-back interceptions.
Barkley finished 20-of-41 for 254 yards. For the first time since 2010, he failed to throw for a touchdown.
If any irony were to be found, it would be as Barkley was attempting to put together a game winning drive in the final minutes on Saturday. Whispers and tweets were flying out that Barkley was attempting to put together a drive that only Heisman winners can. Obviously, it came short. But was that truly his one and only chance to prove he's Heisman worthy.
Staring down a 2-1 record and now considered a Heisman-long shot, perhaps he will build to get back to where he started. After all, this year is about unfinished business for Barkley. "He'll rally like he has before," Kiffin said.
A kid who comes back under these circumstances won't forget why he chose to return. Saturday night was bad. Can that only mean the best is yet to come?