Young Guns: Barkley vs. Luck

Saturday's matchup between USC and Stanford at the Los Angeles Coliseum features two of the best young quarterbacks in the country in redshirt freshman Andrew Luck and true freshman Matt Barkley.

Saturday's matchup between USC and Stanford at the Los Angeles Coliseum features two of the best young quarterbacks in the country in redshirt freshman Andrew Luck and true freshman Matt Barkley.

Luck and Barkley, both five-star recruits coming out of high school, arrived on campus with high expectations, and while they have taken different paths, the two signal callers have been instrumental in their team's success this season.

Luck, Scout's No.4 quarterback recruit in the 2008 class, gained valuable experience and knowledge on the practice field while opting to redshirt last season, a decision that Coach Jim Harbaugh says has paid dividends in 2009.

"I think it was good in our case, it was good in Andrew's case," Harbaugh said. "There was a lot of thought to it."

Barkley on the other hand, Scout's top-rated quarterback in the 2009 class, enrolled early at USC and immediately jumped into the race to replace Mark Sanchez, who was selected fifth overall by the New York Jets in the NFL draft.

The 6-foot-2, 230-pound passer from Mater Dei High School received national attention when he beat out Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp and became the first true freshman quarterback in school history to start the season opener.

Barkley led the Trojans to a 56-3 victory over an overmatched San Jose State squad in his debut, but he really flashed his potential and got the USC faithful excited for the future, by leading the Trojans on an 86-yard game-winning drive over Ohio State in front of 106,033 fans in Columbus.

"He's just so poised and so comfortable in the arena that it doesn't really matter where we're playing; it doesn't affect him," Carroll said.

The impressive freshman later added a road victory over rival Notre Dame and Jimmy Clausen, and has been solid under center, guiding the Trojans to a 7-1 record as a starter, despite some recent struggles.

While Barkley has received more attention, Luck currently sits atop the Pac-10 in passing efficiency (153.1), is second in total offense (255.9) and ranks third in the conference in passing yards per game (230.7).

"He's playing really well and he's exceeded our hopes and our expectations for how he would play this year," Harbaugh said.

With the dynamic combo of Luck and tailback Toby Gerhart leading the way, the Cardinal is bowl eligible for the first time since 2001 and enters Saturday's showdown in Los Angeles ranked in the Top 25 for the first time since the end of the 2001 season.

Stanford's offense is truly one of the best units in the country averaging 34 points per contest and continues to show improvement each week.

They have racked up 1,562 yards of total offense the last three games and are coming off a 51-point performance against the Oregon Ducks, who entered the game as one of the hottest teams.

"When everybody saw the score at halftime, you would think they just ran right over Oregon," Carroll said. "But they threw the ball at them to make those opportunities early on. It was very impressive that they were so able to take advantage."

Luck has been so good this season that Harbaugh recently said that the 6-foot-4, 235-pound quarterback from Texas, "Is the best quarterback in the country. I've not seen a better one."

"Jim's not a guy to mince words now, you know. He's going to say what he thinks," Pete Carroll said when asked about Harbaugh's assessment. "I'm sure that's what he feels about him. This is a really, really good kid. He's a really good player."

Carroll also isn't shy when praising his quarterback, even going as far as referencing Malcolm Gladwell's popular book in calling Barkley an "Outlier."

While Harbaugh and Carroll may be a bit biased in their evaluations, the confidence that both coaches have in their talented quarterbacks isn't totally unwarranted, and has made for a very intriguing matchup this Saturday between two of the best freshmen in college football.


Matt Barkley leads USC against Andrew Luck and Stanford this Saturday.

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