Barkley gaining reputation as 'special' player

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
9:51
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller
AP Photo
Despite Matt Barkley's young age, USC Coach Pete Carroll says his QB is a special talent -- an 'outlier.' .

LOS ANGELES -- Matt Barkley stood near midfield, surrounded by television cameras and tape recorders and breathless questions, a toothy, matinee-idol grin stretched across his face. He seemed completely comfortable, devoid of the nervousness one would expect from an 18-year-old making his "hello world" moment on the big stage that is annually reserved for the USC quarterback.

Over the next hour or so he would be asked about 47 times if he had been nervous before his first start. Each time he patiently said no.

"This was what I was made to do," Barkley explained, sounding more humble than pompous, if that can be believed.

He then slowly walked -- floated really -- toward the tunnel at the Coliseum, a scrum of backpedaling photographers clicking away in front of him.

"Matt Barkley!" the Trojans fans bellowed at him without accompanying words or phrases -- the name was enough -- as the next Big Thing ambled into the tunnel and onto the college football landscape.

Still, it didn't make sense. How could he not be nervous? Sure, he'd just completed 15 of 19 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown with no interceptions and no bad plays in a 56-3 bludgeoning of San Jose State.

And, sure, San Jose State at home isn't anything like, say, a visit to Ohio State's Horseshoe.

But everybody gets nervous before a game, particularly a first game, even more so for a guy jumping from high school to USC. Even his teammates, linebacker Chris Galippo, a new starter, and Taylor Mays, a two-time All-American, didn't buy it.

"He says that but I think he's lying," Mays said.

Said Galippo, "Barkley is lying. He had to be nervous."

Pete Carroll gets Barkley, though, even if some players and all reporters do not.

Carroll tries to be patient while explaining, but he's not sure if the hoi polloi can truly understand.

Did getting the San Jose State game under his belt help Matt Barkley prepare for next weekend's blockbuster at Ohio State?

No.

"You're looking for typical things," Carroll said. "This is not a typical kid."

Carroll calls Barkley an "outlier," a term he adopted after reading Malcolm Gladwell's book titled the same. Gladwell describes outliers as people who "for one reason or another, are so accomplished and so extraordinary and so outside of ordinary experience that they are as puzzling to the rest of us as a cold day in August."

Carroll said he started believing that Barkley was beyond-the-pale special five days into spring practices.

"He shouldn't have been doing the things we saw him doing compared to the things we've seen before," Carroll said.

The "things" before being Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez.



Against San Jose State, the Trojans were out of sync the entire first quarter. Barkley took a sack and threw away two of his first four passes.

Then -- poof -- the Trojans scored touchdowns on six consecutive drives and Barkley took a place on the bench to allow backup Aaron Corp to play the fourth quarter.

Barkley did everything -- even throw his first touchdown pass -- with peculiar calm. Adrenaline is not his thing.

"No, I try to stay low," he said. "I'm not a Tim Tebow-like quarterback. That's how he does his thing. But some times I psyche myself out when I do that so I just try to stay calm."

As for getting some valuable experience before heading to Ohio State, Barkley shrugged, much like Carroll had tried to explain he would.

"It probably did help, but I don't think I need anything to get ready," he said. "I probably don't know what I'm in for [at Ohio State], but I'm not going to worry about that. It doesn't matter the situation, it doesn't matter the environment, it doesn't matter how many people are in the crowd. I've got my offense and I'm confident. We could be playing in Alaska in the snow and I'd have faith we're going to win."

Barkley is surrounded by weapons and fronted by a dominating line, which should get All-American center Kristofer O'Dowd back this week. The Trojans rushed for 354 yards, led by Joe McKnight with 145. Damian Williams is the headliner for a receiving corps that is strong, even without the injured Ronald Johnson.

Barkley won't be asked to do everything against Ohio State. Even if he's an "outlier," he's still a true freshman who will be playing in one of the nation's most hostile environments on national TV in front of the college football nation.

Right?

Wrong, said Carroll, "He's doing everything our quarterbacks have ever done."

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