LOS ANGELES -- Pete Carroll evoked the famed Wally Pipp situation even if he said he didn't want to address it, but given the buzz building around true freshman QB Matt Barkley, it's not a stretch to think USC's first-team quarterback Aaron Corp was pretty anxious as he sat out the Trojans Tuesday night practice with a swollen left knee.
Corp, who was in pads like the rest of his teammates, is slated to get an MRI Wednesday after the results of X-rays he took early Tuesday were inconclusive. Meanwhile, Barkley, the nation's top QB recruit in the 2009 recruiting class, took Corp's place with the first-team offense and has performed in the words of coach Pete Carroll "remarkably well."
"Like he's done every day, he had a number of big plays and really good throws," said Carroll. "He had a little trouble in blitz drill but that's not his fault. ... I don't know how we can expect much more than what we're seeing.
"What is really extraordinary is his attitude, his approach to it. He doesn't feel like he's having any problems handling stuff. He's dealing with it very well. He's not shy a bit and it comes out in everything he's doing."
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Barkley, who arrived at USC a semester early so he could compete in spring ball, actually overtook former blue-chipper Mitch Mustain, the Arkansas transfer, for the No. 2 spot and appears to be closing ground on Corp.
After the Trojans' opening day of camp last Saturday, USC QB coach Jeremy Bates said Barkley's strong arm -- and his confidence in it -- reminded him of Jay Cutler. Bates, a one-time Tennessee QB, also said that Barkley's smarts and maturity conjured up images of a young Peyton Manning. At Tuesday's practice, Barkley not only displayed the big arm (hitting Joe McKnight in stride on a long touchdown pass and Damian Williams on another deep ball for a TD) but also showed some growth by checking down to receivers and one time throwing the ball out of bounds when no receivers were open, a nod to those overzealous tendencies.
"I had a blast today getting the extra reps," Barkley said, who later added that he's eager for Corp to get back into action and the competition.
Corp, who was injured after a lineman rolled into him on Monday, said the problem is more related to the back of his left knee. He said he's not really worried about losing his starting job. "I just wanna get back out there and compete," he said.
Still, it's hard not to think that with each rep he misses, the window for Barkley to overtake him gets just a little bit bigger. Especially since everyone inside the program has been absolutely raving about Barkley, and it's not like Corp has much game experience.
Barkley's presence and powerful arm are as eye-popping as his poise and charisma in dealing with his burgeoning celebrity as the Trojans' next potential star. After practice, he smoothly has navigated with the crowd of fans wanting pictures and autographs. He is equally adept at handling the media.
But as Carroll pointed out, this is still a freshman who for all his talents, has never played in a college game.
"He's still got issues," says Carroll. "The young guys have issues with protections and changing protections and adjusting things. Stuff like that. That's the last thing to come. He doesn't have any trouble throwing the football, but there is more to it than that. He's handling the running-game checks fine, but now it's just making sure he's really consistent on protections and helping the offensive line."
Asked if Corp could lose the job as starter that he had won in the spring thanks to his consistent, relatively error-free work, Carroll dismissed the subject: "I don't know why I would ever answer that question," he said. "We're just going to go back and see what the deal is for [Wednesday]. We gotta get him back out there as soon as we can."
Bruce Feldman is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.