From the day he arrived at USC in January, Matt Barkley said he could see himself leading the Trojans out of the Coliseum tunnel as the starting quarterback for the season opener against San Jose State.
Barkley's vision is about to become reality.
On Thursday, Coach Pete Carroll announced that the freshman from Newport Beach would be the starter for the Sept. 5 game . . . and probably beyond.
Barkley, 18, will become the first true freshman quarterback to start an opener for the Trojans.
"It's a dream come true," Barkley said after practice. "I was speechless when Coach told me and I was so happy at the same time.
"But it really is an honor and I know I have to live up to it."
Carroll and first-year quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates selected Barkley over third-year sophomore Aaron Corp, the No. 1 quarterback going into training camp after a near-flawless performance during spring practice.
Corp, however, suffered a leg injury Aug. 10, the third day of training camp, giving Barkley an opportunity to take every first-team snap.
Corp returned to full practices this week and proclaimed himself sufficiently healed to lead the Trojans. But Carroll said that Barkley, who graduated early from Santa Ana Mater Dei High so he could participate in spring practice, had done enough to win the job.
"Matt's been remarkable," Carroll said. "He's just had a great introduction to Trojan football from the springtime all the way through everything we've done here. . . . I'm fired up about it. I'm fired up for him. I'm fired up for our football team to see this happen."
After practice, Corp was clearly disappointed by a decision that did not allow him to prove his fitness during Saturday's mock game at the Coliseum. He acknowledged that he was not 100% recovered from the cracked fibula he suffered 2 1/2 weeks ago, but said he was still capable of leading the Trojans.
Asked if he thought it was a fair decision, Corp paused for three seconds before offering an unconvincing, "Yeah."
Corp said Carroll informed him of Barkley's status during a Thursday morning meeting.
"He just spoke in terms of San Jose State, but if [Barkley] plays well he's obviously not going to take him out," Corp said.
Carroll, in fact, said in a statement announcing his decision, "It's not a one-game deal."
Nevertheless, Corp said he would be ready to play when called upon.
"I still want to play, I still expect to play," he said. "And so when I do get my opportunities, I've got to make the most of them."
Both Carroll and Bates said Barkley won the job by taking advantage of the opportunity created by Corp's absence.
But the freshman was five-for-18 passing and appeared fazed at times in a scrimmage at the Coliseum on Aug. 18.
He also had a pass intercepted in a scrimmage last weekend and had several passes picked off during practice this week.
"He's made a couple mistakes . . . but he's come back in the film room and he's grown with each mistake and proven that he's not going to make the same mistake twice," Bates said.
Barkley said he learned of his new status Thursday morning after Bates told him to come to the coaches' offices following class.
"I just thought we were watching film or something," Barkley said. "I walked into Coach Carroll's office and he said, 'Congratulations, you're the starter for San Jose State.' I was stoked."
All-American safety Taylor Mays said he had anticipated Corp would be the starter, but added, "You trust Coach Carroll. You trust what he does."
Tight end Anthony McCoy, offensive lineman Jeff Byers and running backs Stafon Johnson and Joe McKnight lauded both quarterbacks, saying the team didn't favor one over the other.
"Whoever is the quarterback is the quarterback," McKnight said. "You still have to play football and help him along the way."
Byers also said he believed the competition was still open.
"It's nice to know we have a quarterback, but I don't think that's going to stop Aaron Corp from playing his butt off and seeing if he can become the starter."
Mitch Mustain, the former Arkansas starter who is third on the depth chart at quarterback, did not attend practice because of flu.
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First-time (signal) callers
Matt Barkley would be the fourth quarterback to debut as a starter in Pete Carroll's nine seasons as coach. (Carson Palmer, the Heisman Trophy winner in 2002, the coach's second season, made his debut as a starter when Paul Hackett was coach.) A look at how the others performed in their first starts:
First start (season opener):
Aug. 30, 2003, at Auburn
* Completed 17 of 30 passes for 192 yards and a touchdown in a 23-0 victory.
JOHN DAVID BOOTY
First start (season opener):
Sept. 2, 2006, at Arkansas
* Completed 24 of 35 passes for 261 yards and three second-half touchdowns in a 50-14 victory.
First start (Game 6): Oct. 13, 2007
vs. Arizona at the Coliseum
* Completed 19 of 31 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown in a 20-13 victory.