Early last week, an NFL scout and a team executive anonymously blasted USC quarterback Matt Barkley, who announced he wouldn't be throwing at the combine because he was still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered 14 weeks before.
"Here we go again. Another L.A. movie star quarterback who needs his own day to throw," a veteran scout told Yahoo's Jason Cole.
"And you wonder why guys from Southern California [are bad]?" a veteran team executive added.
Barkley responded days later, telling Sports Illustrated's Peter King, "I really want to set the record straight on a few things. People look at me like I'm some Cali boy, but I'm not that way -- I don't even know how to surf. I'm a football junkie. I'm football, 24/7.''
And now Barkley's drawn the endorsement of his college coach Lane Kiffin. (This is akin to George W. Bush stumping for John McCain back in 2008 and expecting anything other than ridicule and disappointment.)
“I think he's going to be a great starting quarterback in the NFL, and the film shows it,” Kiffin told ESPNLosAngeles.com. “The plays he makes, all the throws he's made here, the leadership qualities.”
Kiffin might be right, but given all his baggage -- from his stint as the Raiders coach to his one tumultuous season at the University of Tennessee to USC's no-show performance in the 2012 Sun Bowl -- it's hard to take the man seriously.
One of the complaints from the unnamed NFL exec was that USC quarterbacks have a spotty track record once they're drafted: Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez are obvious examples, although Carson Palmer has struggled in recent years after playing at a high level early in his career (to be fair, Palmer wasn't doomed by lack of talent but by ACL and elbow injuries).
Compared to those who came before him, Kiffin says Barkley did more with less at USC.
"I've said this before: If Matt Barkley had the defense that Matt Leinart and Carson Palmer had, Matt Barkley would have won the Heisman Trophy just like they did. He would have had the winning records they had."
And that's the thing: The media loved Barkley as a freshman, but that changed as he struggled with consistency and began drawing comparisons to other top-flight quarterbacks. Kiffin says he can pinpoint the exact moment when the tide began to turn: the 2011 overtime loss to Stanford and Andrew Luck.
"Andrew threw an interception for a touchdown and, their very next drive we stop them, and [safety] T.J. McDonald gets called for a head-to-head personal foul that keeps the drive alive," Kiffin said. "Is that Matt Barkley's fault? If that flag's not thrown and we stop them right there, you go, 'Man, Matt just beat Andrew Luck.' When I remember Matt, I think of all that stuff."
We distinctly remember having this thought in the moments following that game: Just watching the fourth quarter and overtime, it was impossible to tell the difference between Luck, the assumed future No. 1 pick, and Barkley. Kiffin obviously disagrees.
Either way, it doesn't much matter. Barkley's fate will be tied to how he performs at his pro day, and in individual workouts for interested NFL teams.