The senior season that Matt Barkley will begin in September is one of the most highly anticipated senior campaigns for a Pac-12 quarterback in the history of the conference. A Heisman trophy, numerous records, a national championship and a redemption song for the USC Trojans are on the list of expectations for Barkley, and if he can accomplish the lofty goals that the media and Trojan fans have set for him, his 2008 season will assuredly be among the best ever by a quarterback in the conference.
Since much of the focus of Barkley's upcoming season in the fact that he came back for his senior season despite the lure of the NFL, let's take a look at the best senior seasons put together by Pac-12 quarterbacks in the last 10 seasons.
1. Carson Palmer, USC - 2002
The buzz leading into Palmer's senior season was actually the opposite of Barkley's as he faced rampant scrutiny for failing to live up to the hype he carried coming out of high school and the Trojans struggled through tough seasons in his three previous years behind center. It's fitting that it was exactly 10 years ago that Palmer ended up putting together a fantastic senior season that led USC out of the darkness of troubled seasons and led to him taking home the Heisman and being the first player taken in the 2003 NFL Draft.
2. Alex Smith, Utah - 2004
Smith was relatively unknown nationally heading into his senior season, but would put together an incredibly efficient and prolific season in his senior year while also leading the Utes to a BCS Bowl victory in the Fiesta Bowl over Pitt. Smith threw 32 touchdowns while only throwing 4 interceptions along with running for more than 600 yards and 10 touchdowns. Smith's phenomenal senior season led to the 49ers taking him first overall in the 2005 NFL Draft.
3. Matt Leinart, USC - 2005
While Leinart wasn't able to grab back-to-back Heisman trophies, he easily could have, as he followed up his junior campaign with one that was every bit as impressive, losing out on the Heisman to Reggie Bush. Leinart threw for nearly 4,000 yards and led the Trojans to an undefeated regular season before losing a heartbreaker to Texas in the National Championship.
4. Drew Olson, UCLA - 2005
One of the most forgotten great seasons by a conference quarterback in recent years, Olson led UCLA to their last 10 win season while throwing for more than 3,000 yards and 34 touchdowns with just 4 interceptions. Despite being overshadowed by Leinart and USC, Olson also had a flair for the dramatic, leading the Bruins on four 4th-quarter double digit comebacks while also leading them to a Sun Bowl victory.
5. Andrew Walter, Arizona State - 2004
Another under-the-radar great season put together by a conference quarterback. Walter threw for more than 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Sun Devils to one of their best seasons in the last decade with 9 wins, including a Sun Bowl victory over Purdue.
6. Jason Gesser, Washington State - 2002
Gesser was actually the Co-Offensive Player of the Year for the conference with the Heisman winning Palmer as he capped off a career as the winningest Cougar QB in the history of the program. Gesser not only put up great numbers with more than 3,400 yards and 28 touchdowns, but also led the Cougars to a conference championship and Rose Bowl.
7. Brian Johnson, Utah - 2008
Johnson was at the helm for the best season in Utah football in the history of the program, leading the Utes to a 12-0 season and a shocking win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl that resulted in them being ranked second in the nation in the final AP poll. Johnson threw for nearly 3,000 and 27 touchdowns while keeping the Utes ship steady in a number of very close games.
8. Kyle Boller, Cal - 2002
Much like Palmer, Boller was an underachieving quarterback with a ton of potential before breaking out in 2002 in Jeff Tedford's first season at Cal and putting up great numbers while leading his team to their first good season in years.
9. Derek Anderson, Oregon State - 2004
Anderson had been so wild and inconsistent heading into his senior year that he had earned the nickname "Anderception." However, Anderson would quiet all of the doubters in 2004 when he tossed for more than 3,600 yards and 29 touchdowns while leading them to an Insight Bowl win over Notre Dame.
10. Dennis Dixon, Oregon - 2007
Dixon was on his way to a potential Heisman Trophy and one of the best seasons ever put together by a conference quarterback when he suffered a season-ending injury in the Duck's tenth game of the year. His 2007 campaign would assuredly rank higher on this list had this not happened.
Honorable MentionadArizona - 2011, Willie Tuitama, Arizona - 2008