Matt Barkley, USC's junior quarterback and biggest national name, had a good season last year, completing almost 63 percent of his passes for 2800 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a true sophomore in the Pac-10.
But, in retrospect, that was a good season, not a great one.
There were spectacular games, but there were also some subpar ones mixed in. And now the goal for Barkley, in what could very well be his final collegiate season, is to improve both of those numbers quite a bit to put him in the so-called elite category of college quarterbacks.
His position coach, Clay Helton, said earlier this fall that the goal is for him to complete at least 70 percent of his passes for more than 30 touchdowns and 10 or fewer interceptions. The toughest number there is definitely the completion percentage -- the scores and picks would be natural progressions from what he's done the last two years.
His head coach, Lane Kiffin, says his signal-caller can do it with the help of his teammates.
"Sure he can," Kiffin said this week. "There's not that much difference in a game between 63 and 70 -- it's just a couple plays, and a lot of that has to do with the personnel around you.
"You can complete 70 percent in a game, as far as accuracy-wise, and you get four drops and that completely changes it. So it's all of our offense's control to help that."
And the other numbers? There might be a few potential obstacles, but they should still be reachable.
"That's realistic," Kiffin said of the touchdowns and interceptions. "It makes it a little harder because you don't get that one extra game without having the bowl game, but you're rolling off when you get above 30. You're being productive. Things are going well around you.
"And if you can stay in single digits in interceptions, you're having one of those elite years."
Barkley said 30 touchdowns and 10 interceptions is a "good starting point" for his 2011 goals. He has always declined stating specific goals for himself, dating back to his January 2009 arrival as an early-enrollee freshman, always speaking in broad terms.
But his coaches haven't. Helton, a college quarterback at Houston in the 1990's, has made it clear since formal preparation began for the 2011 season in spring what he wants from Barkley this year. Kiffin, while almost-always complimentary of his 20-year-old quarterback, lets loose the occasional motivational statement as well -- like when he was asked Wednesday what his expectations were for him this year.
“Play extremely well," Kiffin said. "Manage the offense. Very few mistakes. Really put us in position to win again and again.
"He did that a number of times last year, but there were some up-and-down times. Now we’re looking for that consistency to stay up the entire year.”