- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Heading into Week 12 of Matt Barkley's first season as a true freshman starting quarterback for USC, the reviews -- and the performances -- ran hot and cold.
He was 7-2 as a starter (missing the loss to Washington with a sore shoulder), was 3-2 against teams in the top 25 and was completing 57 percent of his throws with 11 passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Heading into Week 12 of Brett Hundley's first season as a redshirt freshman starting quarterback for UCLA, the reviews are glowing. He's 8-2 as a starter, 2-0 against teams in the top 25 and is completing 69 percent of his throws with 24 passing touchdowns to nine interceptions. (Hundley has also rushed for six touchdowns.)
Barkley would go on to have one of the finest careers in Pac-12 history. Hundley appears to be well on his way.
"Hundley is a raw talent," said Arizona State head coach Todd Graham, who has seen Hundley and Barkley in the past three weeks. "He's a guy that's tough to bring down in the pocket. He's just strong. He's young, but he's getting better with every rep. Barkley, obviously, is seasoned. Great deep ball. Total command of the offense."
When the Trojans travel across town Saturday to face the Bruins in a game that will decide the Pac-12 South Division, it will also represent a changing of the guard, of sorts. Not only are the Bruins looking to supplant the Trojans as the team to beat in Los Angeles, but Hundley could see his Heisman star on the rise in coming years -- much as it has been for his cross-town counterpart.
"I always knew he was a big-time quarterback doing big-time things," said Hundley, who regularly watched Barkley on TV when he was in high school. "I wanted to start as a true freshman, so I would research other quarterbacks who started as freshmen and his name kept popping up. He's a great quarterback and I have a ton of respect for him."
To Barkley's credit, his freshmen numbers came as a true freshman. Hundley has had the benefit of a redshirt year, during which he grew physically and had a season to learn the speed of the game. Barkley wasn't as fortunate.
"It was rough, but I came in with the intention of starting and it kind of worked out pretty well with Mark [Sanchez] leaving that I got a chance to compete for the spot," Barkley said of his freshman season. "I had some seniors who helped me get used to the speed of the game. But it was challenging. I think I was a little oblivious to the whole thing at the time, to tell you the truth, and the magnitude of what was going on. I don't think I realized how big of a game it was going to Ohio State to play in the Horseshoe. Looking back, it was hard. Harder than Division I high school football, that's for sure."
Another big difference is that Hundley is in an offense that is a little more forgiving on quarterbacks. UCLA's spread attack moves the pocket and allows Hundley to rely on his athleticism, whereas Barkley was thrown into a pro-style system in which he dropped back and had to take his lumps within the pocket.
Still, the fact that Hundley is doing what he has able to do at such a young age bodes well for the future of the Bruins.
"He's playing great," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. "It's very unusual for a freshman to have so few mistakes. He doesn't get rattled. It's almost like if you keep watching, you're expecting to see more mistakes, but you just don't see it."
In retrospect, Hundley is thankful for his redshirt season. Naturally, he believes he also could have started as a true freshman. But the extra year has been extremely beneficial. But he'll need to keep progressing and gaining experience if he hopes to catapult himself from phenom to top-end NFL prospect, which is where Barkley currently sits.
"Brett is going through a lot of the growing pains that freshmen go through, as I'm sure Matt went through them as well when he was a freshman," UCLA offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone said. "Brett is still learning how to play the game and handle all kinds of new experiences that you have to play through; running a two-minute drill to win a game, getting a crucial third down to win a game, being down 14 points and leading your team back. These are all things Brett is doing for the first time. Matt has done all of those things a bunch of times."
And as one college career is budding, another is about to come to a close. Maybe not the way Barkley had intended it, but nevertheless, he's not one for regrets.
"I can't even imagine it going the other way," Barkley said of his decision to return for his senior year. "I haven't looked back once. I haven't doubted myself and I couldn't be happier with where I am. … Honestly, I haven't had much time to reflect on the entirety of everything. I'll do that at the end of the season."