Kiffin: Barkley has 'big decision' to make on NFL

Trojans head coach Lane Kiffin has addressed the possibility of quarterback Matt Barkley leaving USC after his junior season a number of times since his arrival on campus in January 2010. But his way of addressing whether his star will declare early for the NFL draft seems to have changed of late.

“At the end of the year he’ll have a big decision to make,” Kiffin said in an interview with Max Kellerman and Marcellus Wiley on 710 ESPN on Tuesday afternoon. “He’s ready to go. It’ll just be a matter of whether he wants to go or whether he wants to come back and be a four-year starter and three-year captain and have a chance to lead us back to a big bowl game now that we’ll be eligible.”

More than one college football and NFL draft expert has said in the aftermath of Saturday's USC-Stanford thriller at the Coliseum that Barkley has improved his draft stock because of his solid play in a losing effort against the Cardinal.

"I thought it was funny," Barkley said Tuesday, asked to assess that improved stock. "I played alright, but definitely not my best game. But then people are just saying, just because they got to see me and Andrew Luck out there playing, that that was great and everything.

"I played alright."

Barkley's numbers -- 28-of-45, 284 yards, three touchdowns, one interception -- don't stand out. His quarterback rating was actually the third-lowest it's been this season and well below his yearlong average. He's had more star-studded tosses in previous games -- like Notre Dame the previous week, for example. And his team didn't win. So, why all the sudden positivity?

Because he essentially went throw-for-throw with all-world quarterback Luck until the very end of the game. But Barkley didn't like the way he and his team played.

"We moved the ball down the field, but when we needed to, we weren’t connecting with the offense on crucial plays," he said. "I can count six (plays) in my head that could have really separated that game and we wouldn’t have even been close to having an overtime. We would have had a big lead going into the second half.

"Just things like that, you hate to see, because it was a close game till the end. It shouldn’t have been that way, whether it was a drop or a misfire or a protection or a run block. Little things that, again, kind of bite you."

Still, his performance Saturday seems to have solidified in his status as a first-round pick in next April's draft -- if he declares, of course.