Just ten days remain until the start of the Lane Kiffin era. In the first of a series of articles, we'll take a look at the ten Trojans we're keeping a close eye on and have the most to prove once spring ball kicks off. Checking in at number ten is the man who will be a key cog in the USC offense and who many expect to take a leap to the next level.
Size: 6-2, 230 lbs.
Last year: 59.9% passing, 2,735 yds, 15 TDs, 14 INTs
Position Coach: Clay Helton
Contenders for his position: Mitch Mustain
Why he's number 10
Yes, he's number 10. Though quarterback probably has more to do with the Trojans' success or failure than anybody else, Barkley is much more of a known quantity than a lot of other players. A year ago he wowed everybody in the spring to lay the groundwork to becoming USC's first true freshman to start at quarterback. This year he knows the offense as well as anyone and looks to be fully healthy after offseason wrist surgery. Although he needs to develop and get better if the Trojans are going to have a shot in 2010, there are simply fewer questions about Barkley than a lot of other players on the team - especially with a new coaching staff coming in.
Questions to be answered
1. Can he improve on his TD-INT ratio?
The only reason why Barkley didn't win the quarterback job coming out of the spring last year was because he turned the ball over far more than Aaron Corp did. After putting together a solid but unspectacular season as a freshman, he can look firmly at cutting down the turnovers and upping the touchdown throws as one of the key areas to improve upon. Barkley knows the offense better than anyone so the only real obstacle from cutting down on the picks is himself. If he comes out sharp and tossing touchdowns, he'll meet expectations. If he starts tossing picks, he'll open the door for Mitch Mustain. It's pretty clear what Barkley has to do.
2. Who will be his new favorite target?
Barkley loses his security blanket this spring with All-Pac-10 wide receiver (and USC's biggest playmaker) Damian Williams gone to the NFL. In his absence, it will be interesting to see who Barkley trusts most to get the ball to. He didn't seem to favor any receiver in particular during the spring workouts so it will be interesting to see who he develops trust and timing with. It could be Ronald Johnson, Brice Butler, Travon Patterson or Kyle Prater. It could be a running back like Dillon Baxter or Stanley Havili. Whoever emerges as Barkley's go-to guy will be one of the more intriguing storylines of the spring.
3. How will he work with Clay Helton and Lane Kiffin?
Jeremy Bates and Matt Barkley sometimes looked like two peas in a pod when they walked off the practice field together. While Bates was always very reserved when he wasn't laughing it up with Barkley, Clay Helton appears to be the opposite as a fiery coach who wants to get every ounce out of his players. Lane Kiffin will likely be hands on with Barkley as well after turning Jonathan Crompton from a goat into a very serviceable quarterback at Tennessee. With Barkley's two favorite coaches (Bates and Pete Carroll) gone, the kind of relationship he develops with Helton and Kiffin on the field will be something to keep an eye on.
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