Spring Cleaning: Quarterbacks

Where does Matt Barkley fit in the Pac-10 hierarchy? Can Mitch Mustain step in and succeed? Who is the third QB? Look inside for answers to these questions and much more from Dan Greenspan.

Depth chart (spring scrimmage stats)

Matt Barkley (48-84, 624 yards, 9 touchdowns)
Mitch Mustain (48-85, 714 yards, 8 touchdowns, 1 interception)
James Boyd (1-1, 8 yards, 1 touchdown)

Three questions answered in the spring

1. Barkley is ready to make a major leap forward.

There is no replacement for experience or competition. After 12 starts last season, Barkley learned from the latter this spring, enjoying a push from Mustain and the new staff under Lane Kiffin.

Mitch Mustain gives USC an impressive backup quarterback.
Barkley showed better decision-making, but was also more aggressive in a vertical offensive that makes better use of his arm strength.

It helps that Barkley lost weight and is in far better shape than last season. That should allow him to be more effective moving in the pocket and avoiding pressure.

2. Mustain can step in and succeed.

The other beneficiary of open competition, a clearly rejuvenated Mustain closed spring on a tear, throwing five touchdowns in the Trojan Huddle.

While he never publicly said it, Mustain was clearly frustrated by a lack of opportunity and even practice time last season. With new opportunity, he turned up his intensity and also showed better command of the offense than in years past.

3. Boyd is a project, but a very interesting one.

Rare indeed is a move from defensive end to quarterback, but that's exactly what the former Los Angeles Jordan two-sport star did in April. Learning to work from under center and just getting familiar again with the position, Boyd struggled with the transition, but showed flashes, ending on a strong note with his spring game touchdown pass to Kyle Prater and key block for Dillon Baxter. He is a physical phenom and seems willing to put in the work necessary to succeed.

Maybe, just maybe, Boyd could have his say in replacing Barkley a few seasons from now.

Three questions for the fall

1. How long is Barkley's leash?

With a schedule tailor-made for a strong start - none of the Trojans' first seven opponents ranked in the top 50 in scoring defense last season – the sophomore should fare well before facing Oregon in what projects to be the Pac-10 game of the year. But what happens if he struggles, when does Mustain get a shot?

The previous regime was completely unwilling to pull Barkley, as demonstrated by the mishandling of the quarterback position before the upset loss at Washington. Kiffin should have no such qualms about giving him the hook.

He had success with the much-maligned Jonathan Crompton in his one season at Tennessee. The light came on in Crompton's senior campaign, throwing for 27 touchdowns. Mustain is certainly more talented than Crompton and would have a better supporting cast.

Still, it would likely take a major flop by Barkley for the former Razorback to get his chance.

2. Where does Barkley fit in the Pac-10 hierarchy?

Welcome back, conference of quarterbacks.

After a few lean years, ceding that title to the Big 12, the West Coast is again home to the best crop of signal callers in college football.

Jake Locker and Andrew Luck will likely battle to be the first pick in the next NFL Draft. In terms of pure talent and professional aspirations, Barkley is right with them.

But his actually production to date puts him behind Nick Foles of Arizona and probably on the same level with Oregon's tandem of Nate Costa and Darron Thomas, who have limited experience but will operate in an extremely friendly system.

Barkley must perform like a top tier quarterback for USC to reclaim the league title.

3. Who is the third quarterback?

Lakewood's Jesse Scroggins will see plenty of reps in camp, but the coaches have made it clear they would like to redshirt him. Boyd has the raw talent, but is still probably a year or two away from really being able to contribute.

If Barkley and Mustain go down, Scroggins would probably get the call.

Of course, at that point, why not just hand the reigns to Baxter and let him freelance?

Matt Barkley showed great accuracy in the deep passing game this spring.

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