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Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley. (Associated Press)<br>

Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley. (Associated Press)

Gazzolo: The right thing and smart thing are not always the same

Last Modified: Monday, November 19, 2012 6:46 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Not all good deeds get rewarded.

When Matt Barkley decided to return for his senior season of college football, he was praised for his decision.

Barkley, the Southern Cal golden boy quarterback, seemed to have it all.

He was the Heisman Trophy front runner, on track to graduate and the unquestioned leader of the team many figured to be the nation’s best.

It didn’t seem like a big deal that he would pass up the riches of the NFL even though most scouts had him either the first or second pick. Why not go back to college if you like it? There was so much for Barkley to play for.

Saturday afternoon we got a final look of Barkley for the season. He was laying flat on his back in the mud, rain dripping through his face mask. More importantly, he was holding his million-dollar shoulder and wondering what just went wrong.

Barkley won’t win the Heisman. His Trojans won’t win the national championship. He won’t get a chance to play against Notre Dame next weekend. So in the end, he will have very little to say in the final BCS title picture.

Odds are also pretty good now he won’t be the first pick in the upcoming draft, leaving his future, much like his arm, in question.

Barkley’s victory lap has turned into a long march to nowhere.

This all leads you to wonder if sticking around for that extra year is ever worth it.

It didn’t work out for Sam Bradford, who hurt his shoulder during the year he went back to Oklahoma. Bradford has found NFL riches, but he also suffered a serious shoulder injury and those awards that seemed so close to his reach slipped quietly into the hands of others, along with the national title.

While money is not a problem for Barkley, and he will get more than a few dollars from the pros next year, this long fall has to leave others wondering what is right for them.

It does seem simple. With each of these horror stories, the risk of staying the extra year seems to far outweigh the rewards.

Even when the player stays healthy, like in the case of Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck’s, not all is theirs in the end. Manning returned to Tennessee and Luck to Stanford with title hopes and Heisman dreams. Neither won either.

It is romantic to want to see these players stay in school. You also never want to vote against an education. But, we also have to face the facts and there are few Hollywood endings on the gridiron.

So, it seems the lesson Barkley and others have given us is to take the money when you can and run. Run fast and straight to the bank.

If somebody wants to give you a giant paycheck to play a violent game players should do it. It’s OK to be selfish, the schools are. They don’t seem willing to hand over any of those big dollars to players, who put their health on the line each and every Saturday with no guarantees.

As schools keep playing musical chairs with conferences with little consideration to their players or fans, why would anybody risk their future for them.

It makes you wonder what the thoughts of such players like LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger are watching Barkley. Mettenberger could leave after this year for the pros, but he would also benefit greatly from staying another year in Baton Rouge.

He is not a No. 1 pick but more of a project. If he stays in school he could lead the Tigers to the national title. He could be a Heisman contender. Sound familiar?

Two more solid games and his stock will be on the rise. If you don’t believe so, think JaMarcus Russell.

If that is the case, you have to wonder if players like him don’t at least take a closer look at the troubles the Barkley’s of the world have gone through.

You can’t let your future be determined by a linebacker who cracks you in the back of the knee on a late hit, or on a poorly-blocked option play.

The Mettenbergers of college football may want to do the right thing, but in the end they have to do the smart thing.

The two are not always the same.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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