Matt Barkley is the rare four-year starter in college football. Rarer for USC.
Trojans fans will get a glimpse into what the post-Matt Barkley era will be like on Saturday when USC welcomes No. 1 Notre Dame into the Coliseum. Barkley will not play against the Fighting Irish after suffering an AC sprain in the fourth quarter of the 38-28 loss to crosstown rival UCLA on Saturday.
Redshirt freshman Max Wittek will get the start.
Barkley will conclude his career having never played a game against Notre Dame at the Coliseum. Barkley, who became the face of the program after being issued heavy sanctions by the NCAA, including a two-year bowl ban earning the moniker “Matty Trojan,” will be a spectator on his Senior Night.
“It’s very unfortunate for him,” head coach Lane Kiffin said during his Sunday teleconference. “I feel very bad for him and his family.
“Obviously this isn’t the way he would have pictured the team’s season going or his season going.”
In four seasons, this will be the third game that Barkley has missed. As a freshman, he didn’t play at Washington with a shoulder injury and as a sophomore he missed the Trojans’ game against Notre Dame with a high ankle sprain. USC lost both games.
The last time Barkley missed a game was during Kiffin’s first season. USC lost to Notre Dame, 20-16 with Mitch Mustain at quarterback. Having Mustain is a much different scenario than what the Trojans face with Wittek this time around. Mustain was a starter at Arkansas as a freshman. Wittek will be making his first career start.
“We have great confidence in Max,” Kiffin said. “We would be more apt to go with what we normally do with Matt in there. Matt and Max are very similar physically.”
Wittek will be thrown into the fire against a Notre Dame defense that is ranked sixth in the nation.
As a team the Trojans will try to pick up the pieces after having lost three of their last four games, including their first defeat to UCLA in six years.
In the year that was supposed to be the rainbow after the storm with a two-year postseason ban in the rearview, the Trojans have fallen from preseason No. 1 in the country to unranked. They are the first preseason No. 1 to have four losses in a season since Auburn in 1984.
On Saturday, they’ll try to knock off the new No.1 without their quarterback and team leader. Through it all, Kiffin says there is no quit in his team.
“These kids are too proud,” he said. “They’ve been through a lot now.”