Sometimes USC quarterback Matt Barkley makes it all look so easy -- brains, good looks, great talent -- that the tendency is to reach for the handiest cliché to describe him.
"Nothing gets to him very much," Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said in a conference call with East Coast sportswriters earlier this week. "He does not get rattled, he doesn't give in to pressure, he's very California cool."
When Barkley leads the No. 2 Trojans against Syracuse Saturday afternoon at MetLife Stadium, the Heisman Trophy favorite will be making what he hopes is the first of two trips to the New York area this season. If he is invited back in December by the Downtown Athletic Club for the Heisman ceremony, it will be because Barkley has the same kind of personal substance as last year's winner, Robert Griffin III, and runner-up Andrew Luck.
When USC was placed on probation and handed a two-year bowl ban after his freshman year, Barkley never considered following coach Pete Carroll out the door. "I never questioned my loyalty to the school, never thought I was going to leave," Barkley said.
Had he chosen to enter the NFL draft last spring after his junior season, he certainly would have joined quarterbacks Luck and Griffin at the top of the selection board. But Barkley had to be with his teammates when they once again were eligible for the BCS title.
"The fact that we couldn't play the last couple years had a lot more to do with it . . . ," Barkley said.
The Trojans went 10-2 last season, knocking Oregon out of a shot at the title game by winning at Eugene to end the nation's longest FBS home winning streak. When Barkley told Kiffin before Christmas that he planned to return, it wasn't a complete shock.
"Almost everybody goes for the money and the fame that goes along with being a top-five pick in the draft," Kiffin said. "That was not very high on his list. He wanted to finish what he started and do something special."
When school ended in May, Barkley and his parents organized a trip to Haiti for 15 of his teammates to join him in helping to rebuild an island devastated by an earthquake two years ago. It was a way to strengthen bonds, but because the logistics of the trip were so difficult, Barkley actually had to turn down some who volunteered.
"We built four houses, which actually withstood the recent hurricane that swept through the Gulf of Mexico," Barkley said, referring to Hurricane Isaac.
Add a fifth house. Barkley has done as much as anyone to rebuild the Trojans' domain, too.