BY SPNW Staff 02:52PM 11/08/2011

Steve Sarkisian And The Art Of Gamesmanship

Washington’s Steve Sarkisian is probably engaging in a little bit of gamesmanship when he says he would pick USC’s Matt Barkley over Stanford’s Andrew Luck.

If Washington coach Steve Sarkisian ran an NFL team, he would pick USC's Matt Barkley over Stanford's Andrew Luck. / Wiki Commons

Three weeks ago, in advance of Washington’s game against Stanford, we had a discussion that attempted to answer the question, “Who is the best college quarterback Washington has ever faced?”

Given that the Huskies were about to confront the Cardinal’s Andrew Luck, the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and almost certainly the No. 1 pick in next spring’s NFL draft, it seemed a reasonable query, even though there is no real objective way to measure all of a quarterback’s skills.

Using the NCAA’s passer rating formula, Luck ranked No. 2 on this list of quarterbacks to have faced Washington over the past quarter of a century. Luck’s rating: 180.3. First on the list: Sam Bradford of Oklahoma, who threw five touchdowns against Washington in 2008. His rating: 180.8.

Turns out, we should have posed our original question to Washington coach Steve Sarkisian, who said Monday that if were drafting on behalf of an NFL team, he would select USC’s Matt Barkley ahead of Luck.

“If I’m an NFL head coach, right now, I’d pick Matt Barkley ahead of Andrew Luck,” Sarkisian said. “I think he’s playing at that high of a level.”

Certainly Barkley was last Friday against over-matched Colorado. Barkley threw six touchdown passes in a 42-17 victory that earned Barkley the Pac-10’s Offensive Player of the Week award.

Asked to elaborate, Sarkisian cited Barkley’s knowledge of the game, his knack for turning bad plays into good ones, his accuracy and poise.

“I think where he fits into the National Football League is in his pocket presence and what Lane’s doing with him,” Sarkisian said, adding, “I think he’s fantastic.”

There’s not a whit’s worth of statistical difference between the USC and Stanford quarterbacks. This is how Luck and Barkley fared against each other in Stanford’s 56-48 overtime win on Oct. 29.

Player Cmp. Att. Yards INT TDs Long Sack Rate
Andrew Luck 29 40 330 1 3 62 2 161.5
Matt Barkley 28 45 284 3 1 28 0 132.7

And this is how Luck and Barkley compare over the course of the season (Luck has played nine games, Barkley eight):

Player Cmp Att. Yards Pct. Long TDs INT Rate
Andrew Luck 194 272 2424 71.3 62 26 5 174.1
Matt Barkley 229 342 2608 67.0 82 28 6 151.5

It’s certainly no surprise that Sarkisian would opt for Barkley over Luck. After all, Sarkisian helped recruit Barkley to USC when Sarkisian served as an assistant under Pete Carroll, and would have a natural bias toward his own recruit.

But we has to wonder if Sarkisian, a rather astute fellow, isn’t engaging in some gamesmanship here. The diplomatic response would have been for Sarkisian to waffle on an answer, praise both Luck and Barkley effusively, and say that an NFL team probably couldn’t go wrong drafting either quarterback.

Maybe Sarkisian picked Barkley over Luck on the reasonable assumption that Sarkisian will never have to face Luck again, even though Luck has a year of eligibility remaining (Luck has been considered the top pick in the draft two years in a row).

On the other hand, maybe Sarkisian picked Barkley, hoping to help nudge the junior towards the NFL draft. It would certainly be in Sarkisian’s best interests if he didn’t have to face Barkley again next year, although Barkley failed to light up the Huskies in the Los Angeles Coliseum last season, completing 14 of 20 passes for 186 yards and no touchdowns in USC’s 32-31 loss to the Huskies.

The Huskies (6-3) are an early 13-point underdog to USC, a team the Huskies have defeated in each of the past two seasons. Washington has not scored three consecutive victories over the Trojans since 1990-92. Washington’s longest winning streak over USC is five games, from 1934-38.