We released the CBSSports.com 2012 preseason Heisman Watch this past Monday. Since then, we've followed up with a detailed look at what each player in that top 10 has to do to win the Heisman.
The first thing to remember with regards to Barkley is that he plays for one of the great Heisman powers in college football. Seven Trojans have won Heismans (though Reggie Bush had to vacate his award), tied with Notre Dame and Ohio State for the all-time lead. When you play for a USC, or an Oklahoma, or a Michigan (see Heismandment #7), you've got a built-in advantage as a candidate. When you add to that advantage by putting up good numbers for a national title contender, you can set yourself up as a favorite in the race. That's where Barkley stands now.
Last year, the 6-2, 220-pound Barkley threw for 3,528 yards and a Pac-12 record 39 touchdowns despite playing in only 12 games dues to NCAA probation. This season, he is set to become the Pac-12 career leader in almost every passing category. At his disposal will be the nation's best receiving corps and a stats-conscious coach with something to prove in Lane Kiffin. Point being, he's got a great shot at bettering his already-impressive junior numbers and he could conceivably have a season that ends up markedly better than those of his competitors.
Further aiding Barkley's candidacy is the compelling story of USC's sudden revival as an elite program. The NCAA sanctions levied in 2010 were supposed to be crippling, but the Trojans are suddenly a serious national title contender. The college football world has followed Barkley's career since he led his team to a win at Ohio State as a true freshman, but few expected USC, or its quarterback, to be in this position entering 2012. When players overcome adversity to lead themselves and their teams to greatness, Heisman voters take notice.
There's a little more underpinning Barkley's Heisman run. USC's 2012 effort is like a symbolic re-legislating (on the field) of NCAA penalties that many people have come to regard, in light of subsequent collegiate scandals, as being unfair or disproportionate. Winning a BCS title and a Heisman Trophy would, in essence, replace what the Trojans lost in 2004 and 2005. That it could be done despite being limited to 75 scholarships (as opposed to the normal 85) would make it all the more impressive.
So how can Barkley 'win back' Bush's lost Heisman?
The path is clear.
If Barkley can navigate his way through the minefield of media expectations while leading his team to the BCS title game and putting up numbers that are at least comparable to what he produced last season, he'll win the the Heisman going away.
The expectations factor is an important one. The fickle nature of the Heisman electorate is legendary and there will be many people dissecting his numbers and poking holes in his game. His NFL potential will be bandied about after every touchdown or interception. But even though he's the front runner heading into the season, Barkley is by no means a lock to win. As the favorite, much will be expected of him.
Barkley will not lack for media attention. Every USC game will be closely watched, with the Oregon, Stanford, Notre Dame and potential conference title game matchups being the big ones. This carries with it as much risk as it does reward. Those advocating on Barkley's behalf will need to control the narrative and not let the meme grow, as it did last season with Andrew Luck, that he is underperforming compared to other candidates in the race.
Of course, there's a solid chance that something will happen to derail Barkley's Heisman hopes. He could get hurt, or the Trojans could disappoint. Or another player on this list (or not on this list) could produce a season for the ages. Such is the unpredictable nature of the Heisman race.
But as long as Barkley holds up under pressure, gets it done on the field and his team lives up to its lofty ranking, USC will get that seventh Heisman back.
Read what Denard Robinson has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Montee Ball has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Landry Jones has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Aaron Murray has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what EJ Manuel has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Geno Smith has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Knile Davis has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what De'Anthony Thomas has to do to win the Heisman here.
Read what Clemson's Tajh Boyd has to do to win the Heisman here.