Cirminiello Thought: Te'o & Barkley Paths
Posted Nov 26, 2012

Rich Cirminiello Thought: Te'o & Barkley crossing paths

The contrast could not have been more telling or compelling on Saturday night in the Coliseum.

When Notre Dame put the finishing touches on its perfect season, Manti Te’o proudly walked off the field, arms waving enthusiastically—a conquering hero basking in front of his legions of fans. Not far away was Matt Barkley, his arm in a sling, a metaphorical representation of a damaged and disheveled season that needed to be propped up for support.

Te’o and Barkley have a lot in common. Gifted athletes. Model student-athletes. Ideal ambassadors for the game of college football. Both also returned for their senior years, setting aside the NFL Draft in order to tend to unfinished business. Last December, they made decisions that transcended their own individual interests, placing a priority on team and community. One magical, memorable season alongside the closest of friends, even brothers, was the goal. No. 5 reached it. No. 7 did not.

Te’o’s gamble paid off. Barkley’s did not, though I’m guessing he’d still do it all over again. He’s always been a different breed of cat, the kind that operates by a different set of standards. That’s one of the things that helps make him so unique and forever special to the folks at Troy. Unfortunately, he didn’t get enough support for his dream finale as an amateur.

Barkley’s receivers, Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, were up to the challenge every week, but they were anomalies in an otherwise dreadful campaign. The defense was a wire-to-wire flop, the O-line missed LT Matt Kalil even more than expected and no staff did less with more than the one led by Lane Kiffin. The head coach will probably be back, but he needs two new coordinators, one to replace himself on offense and one to replace his dad on defense.

Te’o, on the other hand, was a part of a true team effort, not some collection of shiny objects and former four-star recruits. His Irish play defense, championship-caliber defense, and are capable of stepping up at critical moments in a game. They are winners, spearheaded by their senior linebacker and a coaching staff that has gotten better as the season has progressed. Notre Dame was blessed with a preponderance of leadership, both on the field and on the sidelines. USC had a noticeable dearth in both areas. And it was obvious throughout the entire 2012 season.

Te’o and Barkley are linked for good reasons. Stars and rivals, with similar spirits and similar quests when 2012 began. The linebacker has been a microcosm for his school’s ascent from unranked in the preseason to No. 1 today.

The quarterback has been a microcosm for his school’s descent from No. 1 in the preseason to unranked today. It seemed appropriate that their paths crossed on Saturday in the Coliseum, Barkley unable to dress, while Te’o celebrated a perfect regular season and a spot in the Jan. 7 BCS National Championship Game.