His Team Now

After being thrust into role as a true freshman two seasons ago, Matt Barkley embraces his responsibility as a leader.

It seemed innocuous enough, sophomore wide receiver Markeith Ambles throwing a ball at USC defensive backs that had tried to strip it loose. But Ambles was on the sideline one or two steps away from the defense, and they weren't pleased.

Matt Barkley went into the fray without a second thought, though he had some second thoughts about it afterwards.

"Probably should have put my helmet on before I jumped in there," he joked.

Now in his third year at USC, Barkley has become the unquestioned leader of the team, that recent incident just one small example of his status.

He also organized and directed all the voluntary throwing sessions before spring. Those were especially important given the lack of experience behind Barkley, with three freshmen, two that had just arrived on campus. Whoever ends up as the No. 2 quarterback will have never taken a snap in a college game.

Barkley has become a valuable resource for them.

"Whenever I need to call him or text him or just go in there, he'll be like meet me in the film room," early enrollee Cody Kessler said. "He'll be in there at night and will help me. He helps us all out."

It's all part of the growth Barkley has gone through in his two-plus years at USC, but it hasn't always been easy.

There was his controversial elevation to starting quarterback over Aaron Corp, the fawning comments by then-coach Pete Carroll calling Barkley an "outlier," drawing from a concept in author Malcolm Gladwell's 2008 book, and Carroll's bizarre remark after a win at Cal that Barkley was playing as well as any of the Trojan quarterbacks that preceded him.

"I definitely thought twice just because maybe I don't know what I'm saying," Barkley said of asserting himself that first season on a team with a strong veteran presence.

But it was last spring that Barkley began to take really command of the team.

He was the face of the program after Carroll's abrupt departure and the tumultuous days before Lane Kiffin was hired, again later that spring when the NCAA handed down devastating sanctions in the Reggie Bush case.

But even last season, Barkley still occasionally deferred to seniors on and off the field.

Now, it is his team.

"I mean compared to when I got here the whole secondary was Taylor Mays, they had All-Americans. The offense had Damian Williams and Stanley Havili and guys like that, Anthony McCoy," Barkley said. "Compared to this year, it's pretty much me and (tight end) Rhett (Ellison) on offense."

"Definitely kind of hit me the other day, thinking to myself I was an upperclassman. I'd always kind of been the young guy who was always out of place in a sense and now I'm a junior. It is kind of different, but it's exciting nonetheless and just another chance to step up and lead these guys.

Barkley has, as Kiffin described it, "put everything on his back."

That's what he will have to do to put the Trojans on top of the Pac-12.

Said quarterbacks coach Clay Helton: "He has a lot more confidence and you can see that. You can see that in his game. There's nobody on this team that doesn't respect Matt on and off the field."

On Friday, SCPlaybook looks at Matt Barkley's on-field impact. Can he break the 30 touchdown, 10 interception threshold this season?

USC QB Matt Barkley talks with Lane Kiffin during the UCLA game.

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