LOS ANGELES -- USC football coaches took their seats on the Andrew Luck Hype Wagon this week, with Lane Kiffin calling the Stanford redshirt junior "one of the best ever to play," and his dad, Monte, who coached for 25 years in the NFL, calling Luck "one of the top quarterbacks ever."
Not long ago, ESPN columnist Rick Reilly suggested that NFL teams soon will begin tanking games so they can angle for Luck with the No. 1 overall pick.
"Luck is so indescribably good, I fully expect somebody to lose in their bye week," Reilly wrote.
The scary thing is, nobody (with the possible exception of Reilly) is exaggerating, at least not by much. The Kiffins have been known to bury an opponent in praise -- it's an old coaching trick -- but Lane stood squarely behind his contention Tuesday.
"I'm not the only one. People have been saying that for two years," Kiffin said. "You hear draft people say he's the best quarterback prospect since Elway. Those are big words. For people to say, before a guy declares, that he's the No. 1 pick in the draft, after his sophomore year I can't imagine that's been said many times ever."
In other words, this is a potentially treacherous week for USC quarterback Matt Barkley, whose own NFL stock could rise or fall dramatically -- with millions of dollars at stake -- based on side-by-side comparisons with the NFL's prototype quarterback prospect.
It's also an opportunity. A year ago, Barkley played just as well as Luck in the Trojans' 37-35 loss at Palo Alto, throwing for 390 yards and three touchdowns. If Barkley can match Luck again Saturday at the Coliseum, where No. 20 USC tries to slow down No. 4 Stanford, he could slide into the top half of the first round.
That, of course, would be a mixed blessing (good for Barkley, not so good for USC fans who want to see him come back for his senior year). With the help of our friend Kevin Weidl, a draft analyst for Scouts Inc, we delve into an in-depth draft comparison of Luck (projected by Scouts Inc as the No. 1 overall pick) and Barkley (No. 22):
On a scale of 1 through 5 (one being best) Weidl gives Luck a 2, saying: He's become a better decision maker throughout his career. He's taking care of the ball, not forcing throws into coverage. Mentally, he has what it takes, both from an ability to handle an NFL playbook to getting teams into the right protections. He has the dedication and he gets better every year, which is what you like to see.
Weidl gives Barkley a 1: He has the ability to get deep into his progressions. You can tell Barkley handles a lot of responsibility in the pro-style offense. Making the right throws is one of his better abilities. On the coaches' tape, you can see him work one side of the coverage to the second and third options all the way across the field. He's calm and executes extremely well against pressure, can anticipate throwing lanes. He's got savvy and is polished enough to manipulate coverages with pump fakes.
Barkley (2): He's very accurate in short to intermediate throws. He has good touch on the ball in shallow crosses and slants and allows the receiver to maximize yards after the catch. He delivers accurate balls when his feet aren't set. He needs big improvement on deep balls. He doesn't put enough touch on it. You don't know how strong overall his arm is, so he needs to drive a lot of balls to get distance. He can't really float it and let the receiver adjust to it. He's very accurate on the move outside the pocket rolling right and left.
Luck: (2) He displays good overall mechanics, with a smooth, compact, quick release. He tends to pat the ball before delivering it, a la Drew Bledsoe. He has upper-echelon arm strength, with very good zip on deep balls that he can fit nicely into spots. Against Duke, I saw him throw a 20-yard comeback off his back foot across the field. You don't see a lot of QBs make that throw. Barkley definitely can't make that throw.
Barkley (3): This is Barkley's downfall, where we have him rated the lowest. He has the ability to change release points, but his arm strength is adequate to maybe slightly above average. He doesn't have the prototypical ability to drive the ball downfield, like Joe Flacco or Landry Jones. His deep ball tends to hang up there. He's a guy we believe is a West Coast system-type guy.
Luck (1): Other quarterbacks are faster, but few are more dangerous or have better pocket presence. He doesn't abort plays unnecessarily. He will reset the pocket rather than take off prematurely. He has mobility outside the pocket with his eyes downfield and he knows when to tuck and run. For his size, he has good speed and competitiveness as a runner.
Barkley (2): Obviously, he's not the athlete Luck is. He has limitations, but I believe he makes up for it with savvy in the pocket. One thing about Barkley is he's calm and doesn't panic, keeps his eyes downfield no matter how heavy the rush is. He does a great job using subtle movements to avert the rush. He secures the ball with two hands. He's never going to be a threat running the football and that's what separates him from Luck, but he can escape the pocket to buy time and extend plays.
Both get a 1. These guys are home runs off the field.
"Our level of respect makes the game kind of special," Barkley said. "But there's nothing he's going to do to stop me and I can't stop him."
Mark Saxon covers USC football for ESPNLosAngeles.com.