USC regards today’s mock game at the Coliseum as a dress rehearsal for next week’s season opener against San Jose State.
It’s also a coming out of sorts for Matt Barkley.
The freshman quarterback made national headlines after Coach Pete Carroll on Thursday chose Barkley over Aaron Corp as the Trojans’ starter.
So the curiosity factor is high for fans coming out to catch a glimpse of USC’s officially stamped present and probable future.
Barkley is hoping for a better performance than his last one at the Coliseum.
On Aug. 17, a week after Corp suffered a leg injury that ultimately doomed his chance to start, Barkley had an opportunity to take over the quarterback competition.
Instead, he threw his first pass into coverage and stumbled through a five-for-18 passing night.
Barkley has since shined at times, but he also has struggled at others with touch and interceptions.
That’s not unusual for a young quarterback, but it could be problematic for a USC program that puts a premium on taking care of the ball.
“We’re not making any concessions because he’s a freshman,” Carroll said.
Barkley, of course, is no ordinary freshman. He understands the offense better than Matt Leinart, John David Booty, Mark Sanchez or Corp did in their first training camps.
However, one of Barkley’s greatest strengths is also one of his potential liabilities: his instinct.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Barkley wants to make plays. Checking down to shorter routes and throwing the ball out of bounds when necessary go against his nature.
“It hasn’t been how I’ve played in the past, so I’m molding myself to fit this role,” Barkley said.
Barkley was a four-year starter at Santa Ana Mater Dei High, where he was, to use Carroll’s word, a “centerpiece” player. His high school team counted on him to make plays.
The result often was impressive. Barkley passed for 35 touchdowns and was the Gatorade national player of the year as a junior. But he also had 18 passes intercepted as a senior.
“He trusts himself and believes in himself so much that there are times when he’s going to fire the ball and it’s going to be close -- and the decision could be made more conservatively,” Carroll said.
“I think that’s why he’s a great player too, though. That’s part of it. We’ll try to work our way through that.”
Carroll and new quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates have preached patience, instructing Barkley to consider himself a piece of the offense, not the entire operation.
Carroll cites 2002 Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer as an example.
“As great as he was, we never asked Carson to carry this team on his shoulders and throw all the passes in the world to make us win football games,” Carroll said.
“We wanted him to be a functional part of the team. That’s what we’re asking Matt to do here.”
With a veteran offensive line and experienced running backs and receivers, Barkley will be surrounded this season by “a great supporting cast,” Bates said.
If there are risks in starting a freshman at quarterback, Bates won’t acknowledge them.
“We’re not going to look at risks,” he said. “Let’s just play aggressive, let’s play smart and let’s go out there and not think of the negatives.”
Carroll is positive that Bates can guide Barkley through the process in much the same way Bates helped mold Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.
Bates coached Cutler for two seasons with the Denver Broncos, and Cutler made the Pro Bowl in 2008.
“That took him two years to get that done,” Carroll said. “We’re going to try and beat the pace.”
Today’s game begins at 12:30 p.m. Admission is free. Gates 1 and 4 will open at 11:30 a.m. . . . The first-team offense will work against the scout-team defense. The first-team defense will work against the scout-team offense.