Barkley looks to continue success against Cal

USC has won seven consecutive games against Cal, largely because of strong quarterback play.

When Aaron Rodgers' fourth-down pass bounced into the end zone in 2004, the fortunes of USC and California would diverge, largely because of quarterback play.

Matt Leinart, himself the successor to Carson Palmer, would be succeeded by John David Booty, he in turn succeeded by Mark Sanchez, succeeded by current starter Matt Barkley.

Five first-round picks in a decade. Booty, the supposed weak link in that line, went 20-3 as a starter and won two Rose Bowls.

But where Rodgers has asserted himself as a Super Bowl champion, perhaps the best quarterback in the NFL today, the Golden Bears are still searching for his successor.

For every bit of promise shown by Nate Longshore and Kevin Riley, for all the recruiting hype associated with Joe Ayoob and Brock Mansion, Cal is still looking for the next Rodgers.

Maybe expectations for "the next Rodgers" are far too high, a profoundly gifted signal-caller capable of completing 23 consecutive passes against one of the best defenses in college football history, but given head coach Jeff Tedford's history of developing quarterbacks and reputation as a guru at the position, a competent replacement in Berkeley doesn't seem like too much to ask for.

Lane Kiffin, a standout offensive mind and Tedford protege, believes restrictions on how much time head coaches can spend on the road recruiting has made identifying quarterbacks that much harder.

"That position, you really need to know the kids to know who they really are, not just the film," he said. "That's so hard to do. The rules limit us so much nowadays, especially as a head coach.

"There's times we have to make decisions on players in general at all positions, but especially quarterbacks, we've got to make decisions sometimes having never even met a guy whether to give him a full scholarship."

Kiffin believes getting to know and work with local products like Barkley has helped USC avoid any drop off.

"At SC, one of the reasons it's one of the best jobs in the world, we do get so many Southern California quarterbacks that we do get to know because they're in our camps when they're younger. We know so many coaches around here we get to know who they are, and that helps us in the evaluation process," Kiffin said.

"We've obviously been very fortunate. I can't imagine there's a better run of quarterbacks over a 10-year window at any school probably in the history of college football. To have those guys, the numbers they put up, where they got drafted, two Heismans in there. It's really phenomenal."

Barkley, the latest in that lineage, will be looking to continue his strong track record against Cal (3-2, 0-2 Pac-12) on Thursday night at AT&T Park (6 p.m., ESPN).

In two previous meetings, he has thrown for 635 yards and led a pair of USC (4-1, 2-1 Pac-12) blowouts. Last year, he tied a school record with five touchdown passes, all in the first half, in a 48-14 romp.

"I think I've been really well prepared every time we've played them," Barkley said. "They try to be confusing with their defensive fronts and what they do with their schemes. We've done a great job in the past of protecting what they've brought. It will be the same this year. Whether we get the protections down, that'll be kind of the deciding factor in the game."

The Bears will pin their hopes on Zach Maynard, a redshirt junior transfer from Buffalo. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns against three interceptions, excelling at throwing the deep ball to wide receivers Keenan Allen, Maynard's half-brother, and Marvin Jones.

That trio has accounted for 18 pass plays of 20 yards or longer, an obvious concern for a shaky USC defense, which allowed 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time in school history.

"They are good receivers," safety T.J. McDonald said. "They can get up-field in a hurry and run real crisp routes. It's a big drop off after those two guys. We got to make sure we eliminate those two guys out of their arsenal and make sure that we don't give up the explosion play."

The secondary has done a better job of preventing big plays after getting gashed all last year, but can't allow Maynard, who is completing 51.4 percent of his passes, to duplicate the strong performances by Brock Osweiler of Arizona State and Nick Foles of Arizona.

The trick will be to keep Cal waiting until next year for the next Rodgers. Top Stories