Top 10 performers, No. 1: Barkley

Matt Barkely had one of the strongest finishes to a season in USC's storied history. Ric Tapia/Icon SMI

We’ve been doing a series on the Trojans’ top 10 performers in 2011 since last week, ranking the team’s best players based on their overall value to the team last season.

The first nine players, listed here in descending order and revealed day-by-day over the last two weeks on the USC Report, were T.J. McDonald, Christian Tupou, Curtis McNeal, Nick Perry, Dion Bailey, Marqise Lee, Nickell Robey, Robert Woods and Matt Kalil.

Our No. 1 performer, then, is quarterback Matt Barkley.

It's fitting that this post was scheduled all along for this day and it ended up being just 24 hours after Barkley announced he'd be returning for his senior season in 2012.

It was a special day at Heritage Hall on Thursday, one many will point to as the official kick-starter of the next 12-plus months if USC goes on to seriously chase a national championship next season.

But the Trojans' quarterback has had a truly remarkable last two months regardless, considering how he closed out USC's 2011 season with wins over Oregon and UCLA in exactly the "big-bang" style he wanted. You can make a convincing argument Barkley performed better last season than any other USC quarterback has ever performed.

And that's probably the biggest reason why he was so firmly entrenched atop this list in our minds. Kalil, Woods and the coaching staff helped make him who he was, but the truth is that a ton of the credit has to go to Barkley himself.

So, yes, he'll be back next season. And he'll be the odds-on favorite to win this honor and probably some others as well, like the Heisman Trophy.

Next season's USC team seems to have every element to be a huge part of the sports world. The charismatic Barkley will be dealing with as much buzz -- on and off campus -- as any college student-athlete in many, many years.

If anyone can handle it, he can.

And with that, we conclude our top-10 performer series and take a look at five players who just missed being ranked in the top 10.

Honorable Mention (in no particular order)

TE/FB Rhett Ellison -- Quietly filled two roles as a tight end and lead blocker and did them both with no complaints. The only thing keeping him off the top-10 portion of the list are his missed connections with Barkley.

C Khaled Holmes -- If Kalil is going to be the No. 2 performer, Holmes at least deserves this recognition. He worked with Kalil to tutor the Trojans' young lineman and worked well in tandem with Barkley.

K Andre Heidari -- An impressive performance from Heidari in 2011. The freshman made all 50 of his extra-point attempts and 15 of his 17 field-goal tries, with one of those misses coming while he was nursing an ankle injury.

LB Hayes Pullard -- Didn't attract as much fanfare as his counterpart Bailey, but Pullard was consistently effective as the Trojans' weakside 'backer. Position coach Joe Barry said he was amazed at how few mistakes Pullard made.

TE Randall Telfer -- Xavier Grimble started the majority of the games, but Telfer was far better as a pass-catcher. His five touchdowns were third on the team behind Woods and Lee, and he demonstrated a penchant for making big catches.

Beginning Monday until Friday, we'll unveil the five biggest questions facing the Trojans in 2012.