On Matt Barkley's health and psyche

PASADENA, Calif. -- In conversation, UCLA Bruins coach Jim Mora always appears to be in control.

He doesn't rush and rarely interrupts the end of a question to start his answer. His tone is mostly serious and yet jovial, and he does a good job of projecting credibility.

For example, he admitted Saturday night, a couple of hours after his Bruins' 38-28 upset win over the USC Trojans at the Rose Bowl, that he downplayed the rivalry game in the media more than warranted to avoid over-hyping his players.

And that's why what he said a minute later was so compelling.

Asked what has gone wrong this season with USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Mora shied away from saying what he really thought -- or everything he thought.

"What I think is this," Mora first said when asked about Barkley. "When you have so much confidence in yourself as he does, because he's done the things he's done, sometimes you try to stick it in there. You have this internal belief that you can make a throw. And that's not always the case.

"The other team makes plays as well."

Mora slowed his cadence there.

"And then," he said slowing even more, "I think, at times ..."

Then he stopped.

"I don't want to get into his psyche," Mora said. "That's all I'll say -- he's a great player."

Barkley's psyche? It's an interesting, largely unexplored concept. Many theories pertaining to his actual on-field play this season -- and why it has been such a disappointment -- have already been offered, from a lack of protection from the offensive line to a weak arm to a hidden injury to any number of others.

But his mind, and how he's actually feeling? That really hasn't been discussed.

There's the obvious question: Does he regret returning for his senior season when he could be making millions in the NFL right now? But he has answered that in the negative a number of times, including again in an abbreviated postgame media session Saturday.

"I don't regret it," Barkley said in the Rose Bowl tunnel. "There's nothing you can do now. Why sit and pout about it?

"It isn't how I expected it to turn out, but as of now you gotta be optimistic about how we can finish this season on a good note."

Many USC fans will say there's no such thing as a "good note" with four losses. But a win over the No. 1 team in the country in Notre Dame this weekend would probably come pretty close.

We now know Barkley won't even be available to play after coach Lane Kiffin announced Sunday the senior would sit out because of a sprained shoulder suffered on a sack late in Saturday's game.

Freshman Max Wittek will make his first start for the Trojans.

Missing the Notre Dame game no doubt puts quite a damper on the end of Barkley's USC career. And his availability for a mid-to-late-December bowl game is no certainty, either -- Kiffin hasn't voluntarily disclosed any non-season-ending injuries yet this year, and he willingly offered information on Barkley's.

So, will Saturday's loss -- and, specifically, Saturday's sack -- be the last time we see Barkley on the field in a USC uniform?

For a stand-up 22-year-old who has stuck with the Trojans through thick and plenty of thin, it would be unfortunate.

But it could be true, too.