USC quarterback Matt Barkley announced Thursday that he will return for his senior season to play for a Trojan team that has fought through NCAA sanctions and remained among the nation's top college football programs.
"I know in my heart that I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player," Barkley said Thursday at a news conference to announce his decision. "The 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to, and I intend to play a part in it."
The announcement set off cheers at USC's Heritage Hall.
Barkley's spectacular season ended with a 50-0 thrashing of cross-town rival UCLA. The performance capped a season in which Barkley rose to be considered for the Heisman award and led his team to an impressive road win over powerhouse Oregon.
But because of NCAA sanctions, No. 5 USC was not allowed to play in the postseason.
"This is a great day for USC, our family, our fans and college football," said USC Athletic Director Pat Hayden.
Barkley threw for 39 touchdowns and more than 3,500 yards this season. He threw only seven interceptions.
Coach Lane Kiffin met with the Barkley family Wednesday night.
"This is a special college student-athlete story," said Kiffin, noting that Barkley is second on the team in GPA.
He will be considered a top contender for college football's most coveted individual award next season. The team might also be considered a contender for No. 1.
Barkley was likely to be drafted in the first round if he elected to leave school.
The 2007 Gatorade National Player of the Year at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana came to USC in early 2009 and was part of a quarterback battle with Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain. Then-coach Pete Carroll named Barkley the starter, making him the first true freshman to start at quarterback in a USC season opener.
The NCAA sanctions for rules violations committed during the 2004 and 2005 seasons were handed down the following year, leaving Barkley and his teammates ineligible for post-season play for two years and resulting in a significant reduction in scholarships.
"We were at one of the darkest points in USC history, and we're on the rise," Barkley said. "The unique level of adversity that was heaped on our team two years ago... has added to my and my teammates' resolve.
"I'm staying because I want to finish what I started."
View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.