LOS ANGELES - A year ago, Damian Williams wouldn't have believed it to be possible.
No way could a true freshman quarterback have a shot to be USC's starter on opening day. Right?
Williams is ready to admit he would've been wrong.
"[Aaron Corp's] the starter, but it has to be somewhat close," Williams said.
Corp sat out Tuesday's practice with a knee injury, and Matt Barkley stepped in with the first string and looked the part of a starter.
"It's complicated, man. The learning curve from high school to college is way different. A lot of people don't realize how difficult it is to come to a college as a freshman. You're already backed against a wall because you are a freshman," Williams said. "All the guys in front of you have the experience. Then, you have to learn a playbook that's really thick. That's really difficult.
"For Matt to do the things he's accomplished so far, it's phenomenal."
Barkley's continued to surprise his teammates and his coaches by keeping the quarterback battle going with his high level of play. With Corp resting a bruised left knee, Barkley took all of the first-team reps and worked with the third string, getting in a very busy day.
"I thought he did pretty good. Like he's done every day, there were a number of big plays and really good throws," USC coach Pete Carroll said. "He had a little trouble in the blitz drill, but that's not his fault. There were a couple of throws that got away, but I think he did pretty well. I think he's doing remarkably well, and I don't know how we could expect much more than we're already seeing. Now we need to see him get comfortable."
At the current rate of improvement, that might not be too far off.
Barkley said he knew Tuesday would be an opportunity to make a move with Corp forced to the sidelines.
"It was fun out there today. I had a blast. I got some extra reps. I'm working my tail off, but it's fun," Barkley said. "I'm hoping he gets back as soon as possible, but while he is out, I'm going to take advantage of every rep, every play, and try to get the most out of it as I can."
Corp didn't practice after bruising his left knee Monday when a lineman rolled into his leg.
Corp said he woke up in the morning a little sore and swollen. He received X-rays after practice and will receive an MRI exam Wednesday.
"His knee is stable in terms of the ligaments and the cartilage and all that stuff, but they have to make sure to check the X-rays and we'll find out more," Carroll said. "He's not real sore, but he's got a little bit of swelling. So, we're just going to rest him until we know more."
Corp said his knee began to feel better during Tuesday's practice, but his status is still unknown. With Corp out, the door has swung open for Barkley to shine.
"He's definitely improving every day," Williams said. "He knows he has tools. He knows the offense pretty good, but I think the fact that he wants to get better every day and that he's hungry helps a whole lot."
And Tuesday, Barkley got his first crack at leading the team - and in Carroll's estimation, he passed the test.
"What is really is extraordinary is his attitude. He doesn't feel like he's having any problems handling stuff," Carroll said. "He's loving being out here with these guys, having fun mixing in and all that. He's dealing with it very well. He's not shy one bit. He believes very much in his own ability to move the club when he gets his chance.
"It comes out in everything he's doing. We couldn't be more pleased with what he's doing right now."
Carroll was asked if Corp could lose the job because he missed time, and he wouldn't commit.
"We've got to get him back out here as soon as we can," Carroll said. "Are you asking me if this is the Wally Pipp situation relived?"