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March 26, 2010

Mailbag: Is Barkley the saving grace at USC?

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Typically, about a third of the 120 FBS teams post at least nine victories in a season.

Only a small fraction of those teams are led by freshman quarterbacks. And quite often, first-year quarterbacks who lead teams to that level of success turn out to be something special.

Rewind to 2006, when 37 teams won at least nine games. Freshmen quarterbacks led five of those teams: Wake Forest's Riley Skinner, Texas' Colt McCoy, USF's Matt Grothe, Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour and Georgia's Matthew Stafford.

Stafford eventually became the first selection in the 2009 NFL draft. McCoy left Texas as the winningest starting quarterback in major-college history. Skinner led Wake Forest to three consecutive bowl appearances, the first time in school history that feat was accomplished. Central Michigan won three MAC championships behind LeFevour, who set numerous NCAA records. And USF won at least eight games in all four seasons with Grothe, perhaps the best player in school history.

Last season, there were four freshman quarterbacks who guided teams to at least nine wins: Rutgers' Tom Savage, Utah's Jordan Wynn, Clemson's Kyle Parker and USC's Matt Barkley.

Time will tell if they prove to be special.

Of course, as we see in this week's mailbag, there are those who maintain Barkley already is.


Saving grace?

Is quarterback Matt Barkley USC's "saving grace" for this season? He had a great year last season, but with some big-name teammates gone (Anthony McCoy and Damian Williams, among others), I just don't know.
Juan
Bakersfield, Calif.

Barkley's play last season definitely showed that USC should be set at quarterback for the next two or three seasons. But slow down on calling it a "great" year.

Barkley averaged a solid 227.9 passing yards per game, and he threw 15 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions. He had three interceptions in a loss to Stanford and completed fewer than 56 percent of his attempts in losses to Oregon and Arizona. That hardly qualifies as great.

Still, he was playing as a true freshman. Usually, true freshman quarterbacks sit out as a redshirt or get on the field in mop-up duty. Passing for 2,735 yards in a freshman season is impressive, and don't be surprised if Barkley emerges as a strong Heisman contender this season or in 2011.

But don't label Barkley as the "saving grace" for the Trojans. That's unfair to him, and really not accurate. True, USC had a down year in '09 by its standards and lost some productive players. But the Trojans have recruited so well that able players will step in.

Allen Bradford is a good, powerful running back. If Ronald Johnson stays healthy he can be a dangerous deep threat at wide receiver.

From here, the biggest issue USC is facing is rebuilding its defense to its dominant standard. The front seven projects to be good, but all four starters must be replaced in the secondary.

It seems ridiculous to categorize a team coming off a nine-win season as "rebuilding," but those are the high standards that USC has set. And when rebuilding, the best place to start is with an accomplished quarterback - which the Trojans have in Barkley.

The coaching situation, with Pete Carroll leaving for the NFL, probably will raise some questions about Barkley's development. Don't forget, though, that Tennessee's Jonathan Crompton - who was a mess in 2008 - made dramatic improvement under Lane Kiffin in '09. There is really no reason to believe Barkley won't continue to progress.

I also see no reason to believe USC won't contend for the Pac-10 championship. There is a lot of talent on that roster, and not just at quarterback.


How 'bout them 'Dawgs?

What do you think of Georgia this season? Do you think Todd Grantham will be able to improve the defense in a 3-4 set? Who do you think will win the quarterback job? And do you think we will be able to knock off Florida and win the SEC East?
Brian
Athens, Ga.

The guess here is that redshirt freshman Aaron Murray emerges as Georgia's No. 1 quarterback. As with fellow redshirt Zach Mettenberger, Murray has a strong arm, but he's more mobile and reportedly has excellent leadership skills.

Defensively, Georgia has been lacking the past two seasons. But you didn't need me to tell you that.

Will the Bulldogs' defense this season be better than the unit that ranked 64th nationally in points allowed and surrendered more than 30 in five games? That's hard to say. Only four full-time starters return. Of course, that might be a blessing because Grantham is changing the scheme from a 4-3 to a 3-4.

Still, growing pains often come with a change of scheme. In addition, it doesn't inspire a lot of confidence that offensive players are being shifted over to bolster the defense. Richard Samuel has moved from running back to linebacker and Justin Anderson, who made five starts at guard in '09, is moving to nose tackle.

Georgia's offensive line figures to be good, the running backs are talented and A.J. Green heads a good group of receivers. Even with a freshman at quarterback, the offense should be formidable. The defense likely will get better as the season goes on, but could have some issues in early games against South Carolina and Arkansas.

At this time, I'd expect Georgia to win eight or nine games this fall, but I don't think the Bulldogs can usurp Florida's hold on the SEC East. Rather, I'd expect Georgia and South Carolina to battle for second place.


Tigers' time

When do you think Clemson finally will be worth watching? I am a longtime fan and am sick of following a team that always disappoints.
Blake
Greenville, S.C.

Blake, I understand. No team in college football is a bigger tease than Clemson. A few weeks ago, I noticed that Clemson has finished unranked in each of the past four even-numbered seasons.

But this season will be different.

Even without C.J. Spiller, Clemson is one of the favorites in the ACC Atlantic Division.

Anything can happen if the Tigers can reach the ACC championship game. Remember, they led last season's ACC title game with six minutes to go before eventually falling to Georgia Tech.

Oops. Another tease that shouldn't have been brought up.

But even if I predicted Clemson would struggle to break even in 2010, could you really stay away? I doubt it.


Bad timing?

I think someone should discuss the matter of whether the Nebraska-Texas Big 12 championship game was called correctly. I have listened to a lot of people talk about an NCAA rule stating that once the game clock has reached zero, the game is over and you can't add time back on. That game was a crushing loss, but I'm fine with the outcome of the rest of the season. But was it the right call? Or was there something else going on behind the scenes?
Michael
Lincoln, Neb.

I covered the Big 12 championship game. I saw the play. It was the right call.

One second was showing on the clock when Texas quarterback Colt McCoy's pass fell incomplete. Therefore, even though the clock had ticked to zero, the officials made the right call by putting that second back on the clock and giving the Longhorns a chance to kick the winning field goal.

That wasn't the first time that happened last season. There was a similar situation in the Notre Dame-USC game. The Trojans were celebrating a victory after knocking down a Jimmy Clausen pass. Clausen and USC quarterback Matt Barkley had shook hands, thinking the game was over. But the officials ruled a second remained and Notre Dame got to run another play, which also resulted in an incomplete pass.

As far as the Big 12 championship game, Texas was extremely lucky to have gotten that extra second. But, again, it was the right call.

Yeah, I've heard numerous conspiracy theories: Texas got the call because the game was played in Texas, and the Big 12 wanted to ensure the Longhorns played in the national championship game.

But that would call into question the integrity of commissioner Dan Beebe, Big 12 officials and everyone associated with the conference. There would be too many people involved to pull off such a "conspiracy" without it becoming public.

And what about the kickoff that went out of bounds to put Texas in good field position? Or the horse-collar tackle that put the Longhorns in field-goal range? If those were part of the conspiracy, the Huskers must have been involved.

Besides, if Nebraska had won, the Big 12 would have had two teams reach BCS bowl games, not one, and thus would have made more money.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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