March 29, 2010
Everybody loves a good quarterback controversy, especially in the spring, when speculation is cheap and motivation divine. For the next few days, at least, that also applies to Lane Kiffin, who insisted again today that there would be a genuine competition between sophomore Matt Barkley and fifth-year senior Mitch Mustain for the starting job Barkley occupied throughout his true freshman season, beginning with the first practice on Tuesday, when the pair will split snaps with the first team:
Lane Kiffin said the quarterback position is open and Mitch Mustain will also work with the No. 1 offense tomorrow.
"Both guys will get even reps tomorrow,'' Kiffin said. "There's been times the past couple years when the No. 2 guy had to play and we have to get them both ready.'"
There's a big difference between prepping the top backup and giving him a legitimately fair shake at overcoming the younger, more popular, seemingly entrenched incumbent. In this case, the bloom has long wilted for Mustain, who hasn't taken a significant snap in three years since transferring from an increasingly merciless spotlight at Arkansas following a debut of Barkley-like proportions in 2006. Even USC fans seem to be writing off a genuine quarterback derby as an extension of the "competition" rhetoric Pete Carroll instilled over the last nine years, not a serious threat to Barkley's hold on the position.
They'll also remember that last year's open competition, seemingly a formality in the process of handing the No. 1 jersey to Aaron Corp, actually allowed Barkley to gain a foothold in the spring and stun everyone around the program by winning the starting job in the fall despite persistent interception problems in practice (an issue that continued to hound Barkley throughout an up-and-down season). This time last year, Barkley was aiming for a very sensible redshirt, and it wasn't until Corp delivered the worst single-game passing performance of Carroll's tenure in Barkley's injury-related absence at Washington that the freshman became the quarterback at USC, and Corp slinked away to I-AA Richmond.
With a new coaching staff and a renewed opportunity, it's entirely possible Mustain will take the same initiative, redeem himself and his maligned arm strength, seize the day and finally fulfill the blue-chip destiny laid out for him as a can't-miss prospect four years ago. But yeah, if he hasn't played his way into the lineup by now, against a highly touted incumbent on track for a breakout year, probably not.