LOS ANGELES (AP) - Matt Barkley indulged in a bit of teenage nostalgia this week when he reflected on the path from his Orange County youth to the glaring spotlight he'll face at the Coliseum on Saturday.
"I've dreamed about it since I was a kid, going into the Coliseum and wearing the cardinal and gold," Southern California's starting quarterback said. "Even though it seems like yesterday I was in high school, I feel comfortable here."
Forgive the chuckling teammates of the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener in USC history. Barkley still is a kid who won't turn 19 until next week, and it actually hasn't been much longer than yesterday since he was throwing 40 or 50 passes a game in high school.
Heading into the fourth-ranked Trojans' season opener against San Jose State, those same teammates think he'll do just fine, as long as he remembers he's just one part of the formidable USC machine that's been cranking out victories and titles for seven years.
"I don't think I need to prove anything," Barkley said. "With the talent we have, we'll be winning even if I just do the minimum."
That's often seemed true at USC, where Pete Carroll already has coached two quarterbacks who won the Heisman Trophy and two more who merely won the Rose Bowl. Still, most observers were surprised when Carroll wagered Barkley could add a little something to that list.
"I don't see it as a gamble at all," Carroll said. "We have a quarterback that's unusual. He's so far ahead of the curve that it's hard to predict what he can do. He's blown us away with how he's handled things."
Barkley will have plenty of help from the Trojans' annually powerful offense, including starting tailback Joe McKnight, receiver Damian Williams and a veteran offensive line. USC's opener should be a valuable tuneup for Barkley before next week's trip to face No. 6 Ohio State.
Still, the Spartans are no pushovers in coach Dick Tomey's fifth season - and they're certainly motivated to give Barkley all the trouble he can handle.
"Everybody has goosebumps," said San Jose State defensive tackle Kalvin Cressel, who grew up 10 minutes away from the Coliseum. "We've been talking about this game for years, since we first found out we might be playing USC when we were freshmen.
We've been waiting for this game. It's like our Super Bowl. For them it's just another game with Ohio State their next opponent. We have a chance to go out there and shock the world."
Although Barkley beat out Aaron Corp to win the Trojans' quarterback competition - at least until his first bad game - the duel is still going on at San Jose State. Junior Jordan LaSecla and California transfer Kyle Reed both will play against the Trojans, with Tomey favoring LaSecla out of spring ball but still valuing the maturity of Reed, who was solid last season.
"It doesn't matter who starts," Tomey said. "They will both play. Jordan LaSecla has improved dramatically over the last year. Kyle Reed won five games for us, but he got hurt toward the end of (last) season and wasn't the same. The job will be won on competition, not on the practice field. By the time the conference season comes around, we want one guy to take it."
Barkley isn't the only rookie making his Trojans debut on the offensive side of the ball. Jeremy Bates, USC's 33-year-old quarterbacks coach, will call the plays for the first time since leaving the Denver Broncos to take over the Trojans' offense.
USC has retained largely the same offensive scheme for the past few years - a subject of periodic consternation among Trojans fans, who grumble that their offense had become stale and predictable. Bates has added a few tweaks, but acknowledges he's mostly sticking to the USC way.
"This is a game of entertainment, and the fans all have their opinions, and I think that's awesome," Bates said. "We've got a game plan and a way we like to do things, and you could argue that it's been pretty successful here for a number of years."
The Coliseum should be full and rocking in a stark contrast from San Jose State's last visit to the historic stadium. The Spartans lost 21-10 in Carroll's debut with USC in 2001, and the coach remembers being disappointed by the half-empty stands and somnolent crowd.
Carroll changed all that, and now he expects his freshman phenomenon to take it another step forward.
"Think how cool this is going to be if this kid can hold it together," Carroll said. "He's giving every indication that it's going to happen. He just jumped on this golden opportunity."