Barkley won the job, but the intrigue isn't over

August, 28, 2009
8/28/09
12:57
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

The decision to make Matt Barkley the first true freshman to start at quarterback for USC is simple.

Almost.

I asked USC offensive coordinator John Morton Thursday evening after practice if Barkley straight-up beat out sophomore Aaron Corp, who was No. 1 entering preseason practices.

"Yes," Morton said.

Three beats.

I started to ask another question.

Morton broke in, "Aaron can still come back and compete. He's not truly 100 percent right now, but he will be in a week or so."

Two things are at work here: 1. Corp is still hurt (fractured fibula); 2. Barkley has wowed the USC coaches.

Did Corp's injury play into this decision?

"A little bit, but the way Barkley has been, being such a great competitor as a true freshman, doing everything exactly the way you want him to do it," Morton said. "He just prepares like he's been here for three years."

But he hasn't.

So the next thought is whether the Trojans will be conservative on offense with a freshman quarterback, despite welcoming back nine starters and perhaps the nation's best collection of skill players.

In other words, is Barkley going to be primarily asked to manage the game and not take risks?

"We never talk about that -- that's negative talk," Morton said. "We say, 'You approach the game like you always have and we'll take care of you.' We can run the whole offense with Barkley. We're not going to hold anything back. We're just going to go."

So, why now? Why make the announcement today?

"It was suited to right now to get this going," Morton said. "We've got a scrimmage on Saturday so it was the best time to do it just to get it out right now before tomorrow, which is a down day, a walk-through, so Barkley can have a mindset that he's the starter so he can prepare like a starter and get ready to go in the scrimmage."

I asked whether Corp can compete to win the job once he gets healthy.

"Yep -- the competition is to always strive to be the starter," Morton said. "But right now, Barkley is the starter."

USC has never been shy about playing freshman -- in fact, they use it as a selling point during recruiting.

But the Trojans have never started a true freshman at quarterback.

I remember chatting with Mark Sanchez about whether he felt he got a fair shot as a redshirt freshman to unseat John David Booty, who was clearly less talented than Sanchez.

Sanchez was diplomatic but everything about his response suggested he felt he should have displaced Booty.

USC coaches, for all their "win-forever" hipness, don't make half-cocked decisions.

The decision to announce Barkley as the starter this early surprised a number of folks (including me).

While Barkley may turn out to be the ultimate quarterback prodigy, it seems likely there will be more intrigue at quarterback for USC this season. Heck, the Trojans play at Ohio State, California, Oregon and Notre Dame, a brutal road schedule that would tax any quarterback.

So it's not hard to envision Barkley faltering at some point and Corp getting a chance to show what he can do.

But the USC coaches appear to be going all-in with Barkley. At least until the San Jose State game.

"There is no doubt in our mind that he is well-prepared and ready to go," Morton said.

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