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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

It's too much, too soon for USC's Matt Barkley

Asking a true freshman to start at quarterback at Ohio State on Sept. 12, as Trojans Coach Pete Carroll appears set on doing, looks like a high-risk, low-reward decision.

August 28, 2009|CHRIS DUFRESNE | ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

USC Coach Pete Carroll's decision Thursday to name (too-good-to-be-true?) freshman Matt Barkley the team's starting quarterback may have just clinched a spot in the Bowl Championship Series title game . . . for Ohio State.

They're probably pouring beers and doing knuckle-bumps at Betty's Fine Food and Spirits on High Street in Columbus -- with good reason.

We wonder whether Buckeyes Coach Jim Tressel has passed along to his two savvy, veteran senior safeties -- Kurt Coleman and Anderson Russell -- the fact Barkley threw 18 interceptions last year to high school defensive backs.

This isn't about the long-term future at USC because Barkley is the long-term future. The talent in this kid's arm is like crude oil in a pipe -- it oozes.

And this isn't about the Sept. 5 home opener against San Jose State, either. USC could probably win that game without a quarterback, running the single wing with direct snaps to Stafon Johnson or Joe McKnight.

This is about Sept. 12 at Ohio State, a game that could have a major influence on this season's BCS national title.

Making Barkley's first-ever road trip a nationally televised game at Ohio Stadium is like sending a first violinist to Carnegie Hall before he has learned to play the entire concerto.

You talk about risky business. We know Barkley is getting the nod over Aaron Corp for Columbus because Carroll said in his announcement that the move wasn't "a one-game deal."

It apparently doesn't matter whether Barkley tosses five interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage or lines up behind guard instead of center against San Jose State.

"He seized the opportunity that was in front of him and took control," Carroll said of Barkley.

What about the opportunity Corp thought he had seized from Mark Sanchez? Wasn't that right in front of him?

In other words, thanks for playing our game, Aaron. Your parting gifts on the way back to the clipboard include a year's supply of wrist bands and a Matt Cassel bobblehead doll.

This is hyperactive -- even for the hyperactive Carroll.

Corp, a third-year sophomore, won the job fair and square. You know how many interceptions he threw in spring practice?

Answer: one.

As in: the loneliest number.

Then Corp cracked his leg in fall workouts, Barkley threw a slew of interceptions in his absence, and Corp returned this week and said he was fine. And then he lost his job.

Even if Corp is not fully healed, as he said Thursday, he probably deserved a longer look. Everyone knew Barkley was going to supplant Corp as quarterback someday, probably before the end of this season. Carroll has been gushing about Barkley since he left Santa Ana Mater Dei High and enrolled early at USC last January.

We just didn't think the supplanting would be Thursday, Aug. 27.

It's too bad, really, because the way Carroll had the progression set up seemed so perfectly equitable. Corp had waited patiently in the program, as Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Sanchez had done before they became stars.

Corp would get his chance, and if he faltered at all, Carroll could then quickly bring Barkley to the rescue for the honorable sake of wins versus losses.

But Corp may not even get the chance to falter.

And, no, playing Barkley this early is not comparable to Leinart's taking his first college snaps at Auburn in 2003 and then leading USC to the Associated Press national title.

Leinart was a third-year sophomore, same as Corp, and not months removed from his high school graduation.

Barkley will become the first true freshman quarterback to start a USC opener.

Unless Corp is seriously injured, which he apparently is not -- he has been pronounced fit to play against San Jose State -- what was the big rush?

It makes you wonder whether Carroll was so enamored with Barkley that he was waiting for anything to go wrong with Corp.

Carroll: "We've named Barkley the starter -- and it's not a one-game deal."

Reporter: "What about Corp?"

Carroll: "Split a nail on his index finger."

Reporter: "Throwing hand?"

Carroll: "No, non-throwing, but Barkley seized his opportunity while Corp was getting it taped."

If not a cracked fibula, would Corp have been replaced because of (pick one): migraine, dandruff, ear infection, common cold, high cholesterol, sniffles?

With two national titles and a record of 88-15 in eight seasons at USC, you have to assume Carroll knows what he is doing.

To make a move such as this, this early, with so much at stake, Barkley must be the next John Elway, as in, tomorrow.

If he is, open the curtains and seat the customers.

If Barkley is not Elway, then sending him to Columbus on Sept. 12 armed with a lunch pail and a note pinned to his pocket could be Carroll's worst play since telling Sanchez to stay out of the NFL draft.

--

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/DufresneLATimes

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