Pete Carroll's stunning announcement that the pride of Mater Dei High Matt Barkley will become the first freshman to enter the season as the starting quarterback for Southern Cal's living legend coach has turned the college football world on its head.
Not that the kid ain't talented.
At the Santa Ana prep football powerhouse, Barkley:
* in 2005 became the first freshman quarterback to start at Mater Dei High School since Todd Marinovich;
* as a freshman passed for 1,685 yards and 10 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone in the quarterfinals of the playoffs;
* so impressed Bruce Rollinson that he allowed Barkley to do something the coach in his two decades never allowed another Monarch quarterback to do, not even all-everything Matt Leinart: call his own plays;
* as a sophomore passed for 1,349 yards and 11 touchdowns and then, as a junior in 2007, an incredible 3,576 yards and 35 touchdowns, completing 63 percent of his passes with nine interceptions. That made his three-season total 6,594 yards and 57 TDs;
* won the 2007 Gatorade National Player of the Year and National Male Athlete of the Year, the first non-senior to win both awards;
* won the 2007 Glenn Davis Award bestowed to the best high school football player in Southern California;
* won the inaugural Joe Montana Award as the nation's top high school quarterback in 2007;
* ended his Mater Dei career as the all-time passing yardage leader in Orange County, surpassing the record set in 1987 by Marinovich;
* named co-MVP of the Under Armour All-America Game at the Florida Citrus Bowl this past Jan. 4 after completing 11 of 22 passes for 237 yards and two touchdowns in his team's 27-16 victory;
* was rated the Class of 2009's first overall prospect in the nation by ESPN;
* and has been described by quarterback coach Steve Clarkson as a cross between Joe Montana and Tom Brady.
Not that there have not been knocks against Barkley. He enter his senior season with unprecedented national hype but started the campaign slow, throwing nearly as many interceptions as touchdown passes while the Monarchs barely kept above .500.
Barkley did turn things around and help rally Mater Dei to a 7-3 regular season record that qualified the varsity for the playoffs. But Rivals.com dropped his rating as the No. 1 prospect in the nation to fifth place, and he plummeted from first to 10th at ESPN. The leader in cable TV sports did fall back in love with Barkley after that All-America Game performance, moving him back to the top spot among the nation's prep prospects.
Despite the hype surrounding Barkley, he was expected to sit at USC as Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain battled for the starting QB job. But Barkley quickly learned the Trojans offense and impressed coaches during spring practices. With Corp having fallen to a knee injury, and despite Mustain having started last season against Arkansas, Carroll on Thursday named Barkley the 2009-2010 starter.
"He's the starting quarterback at USC--it's not a one-game deal," Carroll said. "It's clear to us as a staff that Matt Barkley is ready to be the starting quarterback at USC. 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."
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If Barkley believes the hype he experienced entering his final season at Mater Dei was overly lofty, check this out: ESPN's NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper has already picked the devout Christian to be pro football's No. 1 pick three years from now.
But the skeptics are still to crucify him. Many still remember the first half of Barkley's senior season and all those interceptions. His spring hasn't been much better in the eyes of some college football watchers. Yahoo sports blogger Matt "Dr. Saturday" Hinton calls Carroll's decision "very stunning" given "two weeks of mostly mediocre practice reports, at least one dreadful scrimmage and a growing concern over [Barkley's] mounting interception total," as well as Corp's soon return to healthy status and readiness to lead the team.
And then there is this: The line on the Trojans' Sept. 12 visit to Ohio State dropped by half with Carroll's announcement.
Fans of Matt Barkley and USC do have this going for them: Carroll has a knack for proving sportswriters and football handicappers wrong.