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Matt Barkley named Trojans starter: Jon Tenuta licks his chops

Aug 27, 2009, 10:00 PM EDT

News broke this afternoon that Pete Carroll had named true freshman quarterback Matt Barkley USC’s starter.

“It’s clear to us as a staff that Matt Barkley is ready to be the starting quarterback at USC,” Carroll said. “He has exceeded all our expectations. He has all the physical ability, he has the mentality and temperament to handle the position, his personality is very well received by all the players and he’s extremely talented.

He’s the starting quarterback at USC — it’s not a one-game deal. He seized the opportunity that was in front of him and took control. He deserves all the credit in the world and we expect nothing but great things from him.”

It only makes sense to start wondering what the decision means for the Irish, and their annual clash for the Jeweled Shillelagh on Oct. 17th. But before Barkley makes his first trip to South Bend, he’ll have a baptism under fire, with the national spotlight shining on him as he walks into the Horseshoe in just his second start. The Buckeyes will be looking to exact some revenge after the Trojans humiliated Ohio State 35-3 in front of 95,000 at the Coliseum. (Just a field goal away from the same score as the Irish-Trojans thrashing…)

It’s been interesting to follow both the national and local media in their coverage of the Trojan QB derby. (Editor’s Note: I’m located in Southern California — deep in the heart of Trojan territory.) Even though Aaron Corp was named the starter after a flawless spring season, Barkley was always lurking in the shadows. Nationally, ESPN draft prognosticators Mel Kiper and Todd McShay were anointing Barkley the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft, even before he’s ever taken a collegiate snap. Locally, a storm was brewing even before news broke that Corp had a small fracture in his fibula that kept him out of camp.

You can read all you want about Barkley’s prep accolades on his player page. What I’m wondering is why people haven’t taken a closer look at Barkley’s playing career and begun to wonder if his decision making is up to the level needed for the Trojans to make another run at a National Championship.

As a junior in high school, Barkley was the first non-senior to ever win Gatorade’s National Football Player of the year award. He put up gaudy statistics for Orange County powerhouse Mater Dei High, throwing for over 3,500 yards, 35 TDs and 9 INTs. Yet as a senior, Barkley’s stats regressed, his completion percentage dropped to 54%, and his touchdowns to interceptions ratio flattened to 23:18.

As a comparison, Jimmy Clausen’s season stats last year were a 60% completion rate, along with 25 touchdowns passes and 17 interceptions. The perception of Clausen’s sophomore year certainly wasn’t all complimentary, yet his stats during last year’s up-and-down season were better across the board than the award winning high school season of Barkley’s. No matter what naysayers say about Notre Dame’s schedule, it was a lot tougher competition than Mater Dei High School played against.

Sure comparing Clausen’s college numbers to Barkley’s high school numbers is comparing apples to oranges, but the very valid point remains that for all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Barkley’s ascent to USC’s starting quarterback, the always pertinent issue of ball security with an inexperienced quarterback should be at the forefront.

(Plus, usually in apples to oranges comparisons, the high schooler quarterback’s statistics are at least better than the college kid’s.)

I don’t dispute that the upside on Barkley is immense. I’m simply pointing a very large arrow at the stats we have, which include preseason scrimmages where Barkley threw a lot of balls to the guys in the wrong jerseys. New defensive play-caller Jon Tenuta will certainly release the hounds and come after the young QB, leaning heavily on the most talented Irish secondary in recent memory. 

While nobody knows for sure if the heralded true freshman is ready for prime time, we all know the risks associated with playing a true freshman.

And if the numbers mean anything, Barkley’s got a lot of work to do.

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