But the ability to stay consistent, handle pressure and finish games have become asterisks next to Barkley's name since he became the face of the Trojans as a true freshman.
Those little stars didn't disappear in USC's first two games against Minnesota and Utah this season. But against Syracuse, where the Trojans routed the Orange 38-17 to cap a three-game homestand, Barkley was in his element, completing 26 of 39 passes for 324 yards and five touchdowns.
"The quarterback played pretty good," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said with a grin after the Syracuse rout.
The signalcaller for the Orange, Syracuse's Ryan Nassib, actually outplayed Barkley—or any quarterback that day—for one quarter. Nassib had a 100 percent completion rate passing for the first 15 minutes of the game. But it was Barkley, with a steady focus and determination over four quarters, who shined as the lights died down.
"He's an athletic guy, his vision is amazing I mean he's able to break tackles, he can throw balls for yards. He just looks so natural out there and he does it with such ease and I appreciate that about him," one of his protectors, freshman guard Marcus Martin said.
Martin, still adjusting to the college game, even dropped the "H-word" to demonstrate the level Barkley may have risen to.
"It felt good being able to protect a Heisman candidate like Barkley."
The Southern California (Newport Beach, Calif.) boy's surfer look only enhances the total package. His presence with media and fans has been tried and remains true, and he never wavers in his kindness. He's confident, but he's not cocky, attributing his great performance Saturday to the other Trojan skill players.
"These guys are making plays, they're making me look good," Barkley said.
What's has changed in two years that sealed Barkley as one of the elite quarterbacks in college football? Since Barkley took the reigns from early NFL departee Mark Sanchez and Pete Carroll handed the keys to a little ol' freshman, Barkley has had growing pains. But in Saturday's complete game versus the Orange, a Big East opponent that was riding its first 2-0 start since 1990, Barkley let it loose.
"I have a lot better feel for the offense to where the ball is getting out quicker, so I know where these guys are going to be so I'm kind of anticipating a little better," Barkley said. "And two years helps, having two years under your belt definitely helps with just knowing where to get the ball.
Questions remain about USC's offensive line, which only cast a bigger shadow on Barkley to see how he handles the pressure. On Thursday he graded the offense a 73 percent. On Saturday he praised his line and teammates for getting onto his level.
"Kind of felt like Trojan football again rather than shutting down in the fourth [quarter] or in the second half. I'm proud of our guys for how we kind of put two halves together and kind of finished the game," Barkley said.
Perhaps most surprising from Saturday's game was Barkley's takeoff ability. He showed off quick legs that most had never seen from the 6'2 Mater Dei product.
"He had a great game I was really excited, I liked the one play he had on the sideline, the little stiff arm [running play]," receiver Kyle Prater said.
"[That] stiff arm seemed to work, [I'm] finally a dual-threat quarterback," Barkley joked. "You're going to have to make plays on your feet and sometimes the line breaks down or everyone is covered so you just have to, rather than throw the ball away, it's green grass and just take it."
That ‘just take it' mentality proves Barkley has come a long way since first donning cardinal and gold. He acts as though he can handle any situation that comes his way while still not taking opponents lightly. Through three games, only Oregon quarterback Darron Thomas has a higher number of touchdowns (10) with a low interception number (1) and sack count (0). Barkley has nine scores on the season with 1 interception and two sacks. Most notable of all improvements, though, is that his standards, always high, have gone up. Way up.
"It didn't feel that good [out there today]," Barkley said after his 5 touchdown, 0 interception night. "I feel like we still needed that last drive to get the ball in the endzone and the sack didn't need to happen."
Always striving, a near-perfect stat line isn't perfect enough for the leader of this Trojan club. Without a loss on the season so far, perhaps winning USC's nine remaining games will be enough for Matt Barkley.