Matt Barkley named Trojans starter: Jon Tenuta licks his chops

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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.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.