LOS ANGELES — After Matt Barkley announced in December that he would stay at USC for a final season, Coach Lane Kiffin talked of challenging the quarterback by adding play calling to his responsibilities.
But don’t look for Barkley to go all Peyton Manning at the line of scrimmage.
Instead, fans might see subtle hints of Drew Brees, or perhaps Tom Brady, when Barkley and the Trojans open against Hawaii on Saturday at the Coliseum.
Barkley spent part of the off-season studying film of the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks. He worked out with other NFL quarterbacks in readying for USC’s first opportunity in three years to play for a championship.
And, with only one class this semester, the senior’s daily schedule is similar to that of a pro’s.
However, Barkley might not look all that different on the field.
“It will probably be a lot of things that people don’t necessarily see,” he says.
Last season, Barkley passed for a Pac-12 Conference-record 39 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He enters the opener as the Heisman Trophy front-runner and is projected as a top pick in the 2013 draft.
Kiffin is not concerned about Barkley’s getting caught up in the hype, but acknowledged that he would keep close tabs on the fourth-year starter.
“We’ve just got to remind him to make sure that he’s playing within the system and doesn’t try to force the ball just because of comparisons and numbers of other people,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin is expected to handle the numbers, and they could be huge. As the Trojans’ play caller and one of the most statistics-conscious coaches in college football, Kiffin will make sure Barkley remains at the forefront of the Heisman discussion.
Meantime, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Barkley will concentrate on leading a Trojans offense that includes top NFL receiver prospects Robert Woods and Marqise Lee, 1,000-yard rushers Curtis McNeal and Silas Redd and a corps of future NFL tight ends that includes Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer.
Barkley worked with nearly all of them during summer workouts and spent the off-season immersed in dissecting concepts utilized by Brees’ New Orleans Saints and Brady’s New England Patriots. He has matched passes and talked subtleties in throwing sessions with Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart of the Oakland Raiders and Matt Cassel of the Kansas City Chiefs, all former Trojans.
“It’s always good to learn what the level above you is doing in terms of play calling and stuff,” Barkley says.
Last season, in Heisman campaigning for Andrew Luck, Stanford Coach David Shaw boasted of the quarterback’s ability to call three plays in the huddle before deciding which to run.
USC quarterbacks have always been charged with managing multiple plays or calling audibles, Barkley says, but he will have even more leeway this season.
“I’m at the point where I can analyze and assess and change quicker,” he says. “Our guys all understand that, so it’s just a more fluid process.”
And it flows through Barkley. “He’s in complete control,” Woods says.
Barkley graduated last spring, so he can adopt a schedule this fall “almost like an NFL quarterback,” he says. Barkley’s only class — tech-based “Macintosh, OSX, and iOS Forensics” — meets Monday nights on what is typically the Trojans’ day off.
“Tuesday through Saturday,” he says, “it’s all ball.”
Barkley will use the time to watch more film and take care for his body.
He is planning for a 14-game schedule — 12 regular-season games, the Pac-12 championship game and the Bowl Championship Series title game or a bowl game. That’s only two fewer than an NFL regular-season schedule.
He has talked to his NFL friends about how they stay fresh week to week “when it’s their job to maintain that and how does that get to you, especially at the end of the year.”
So he stops at the trainer’s table and gets stretched before and after practice. He ices his arm.
The fruits of his labor, in the film room and on the field, will be unveiled as the top-ranked Trojans open amid high expectations.
Barkley says his main goal is to put the offense in position to run more successful plays. Audibling to big plays and touchdowns is rewarding, he says, but he’s not focused on flash.
“Those plays,” he says, “will happen.”