Barkley and Forcier growing up before our eyes

In the two biggest games of the college football weekend — both of which were held in tradition-rich Midwestern stadiums thousands of miles from the West Coast — it was a pair of fair-haired 19-year-old kids from Southern California stealing the show.

It’d been two years since Michigan Stadium rocked like it did following Saturday afternoon’s Michigan victory over Notre Dame. And if the 110,000+ crowd was rocking in Ann Arbor, Wolverines freshman quarterback Tate Forcier was their Bono. Or Metallica. Or Led Zeppelin. Or, all of them combined. Hell, he was a virtual Rock Band. And with the elusiveness and precision he showed under pressure Saturday, he might as well have been Madden, Pac-Man and Halo, too.

If Tate Forcier resembled a human video game on Saturday, USC freshman quarterback Matt Barkley was a master scientist. Smart, methodical and patient — the 19-year-old from Santa Ana, Calif. played the role of Niels Bohr, plodding along on an experiment for 53 minutes before finally putting it all together and producing the magic elixir to cure USC’s offensive ills.

The two California kids — “Kid Catch Me If You Can” and “Kid Cool, Calm and Collected” — were at their very best on Saturday, showing that age is just a number and big-game experience is, well, a “nice to have,” but not necessarily a “need to have.”

Forcier’s “tour de Forcier” came first. And with it will come a Beatles-like worship across the state of Michigan this week. Heading into the season, Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez noted that he’d likely use a combination of three quarterbacks in 2009, two of which would be freshmen. Forcier was in the mix, but by no means was considered the future of Michigan football. John Lennon, he was not. Hell, John Navarre, he was not.

But that’s all changed now. They’re probably making maize and blue “In Forcier We Trust” T-shirts to be sold at the Michigan college bookstore as we speak, while the boys on frat row likely already have their own matching Forcier floppy haircuts to debut at class on Monday. Whether he knows it or not, the lanky 19-year-old from San Diego is now a rock star in a state that desperately needs one. From the looks of it Saturday, he’s up to the task.

Even his name — Tate Forcier — sounds like it’s out of some “O.C.”-style television program. A guy named Tate Forcier should be the star quarterback of a major college football program. Tate Forcier?! The Tate Forcier? You’d expect nothing less than that magnificent fourth quarter performance.

While critics may point to Charlie Weis’ questionable late-game play calling or John Tenuta’s house-of-cards Irish defense as the real reasons for Michigan’s 38-34 upset victory over Notre Dame on Saturday, nothing can be taken away from Forcier’s performance. Magnificent both in and outside of the pocket, his cool demeanor and perfect touch resulted in three touchdowns, including the game-winning pass with 11 seconds remaining. With the victory, Forcier did more than make a name for himself in the state of Michigan.

He gave Michigan football something to hang its hat on.

On Saturday afternoon, for the first time since he’d come to town a year and a half ago, it was about Wolverines football and not the dubious deeds of head coach Rich Rodriguez. No one was talking about NCAA violations, players transferring or shady real estate deals.

There was happiness, there was triumph and there was pride in Ann Arbor on Saturday. It’d felt like forever, but there was no need to be embarrassed about the state of Michigan football. Tate Forcier — this blond-haired kid from Cali who looks not a day older than 15 — was the reason why.

If calling him a “savior” is a bit premature (though he’s being treated as such in Michigan this week), “rock star” will have to do.

A few hours after Forcier introduced himself to America and endeared himself to Michigan fans forever, it was the other Cali kid, Matt Barkley, saying hello to the nation. The much-ballyhooed golden-armed gunslinger that beat out two veteran Trojan quarterbacks in camp for the starting job played the role of the mature and competent game manager in the biggest game of the week.

For 53 minutes, Barkley looked like he had training wheels attached to his heels and a giant leash around his arm. There were no big attempts, no gadget plays and no Mark Sanchez-esque rollout bombs downfield. Frustrating as the game might have been for Trojans fans for those first 53 minutes, Pete Carroll’s boys somehow found themselves down five with less than eight minutes to go. That’s when the training wheels came off.

That’s when Matt Barkley soared.

Trailing 15-10 with the ball on their own 14-yard line with 7:15 remaining, the Trojans offense — confused and lifeless for much of the game — shuffled on to the field. A sack and a false start moved the Trojans back to the 5-yard line on second down.

Barkley never wavered.

The 2008 Gatorade National Player of the Year instead put his own spin on “The Drive”.

Barkley completed three passes for 55 yards on the game-deciding drive, leading the Trojans 95 yards in six minutes and 10 seconds on 14 plays. Two of the three completions were on crucial third down plays, while Barkley used his feet to convert two first downs on tough inside quarterback sneaks. More than his arm or legs, Barkley used his noggin. The freshman quarterback utilized his key resources — mainly star running backs Joe McKnight and Stafon Johnson — and got the sputtering offense into the end zone in the most pressure-packed and hostile of environments.

If Michigan Stadium was rocking on Saturday afternoon, Matt Barkley left Ohio Stadium all but silent by midnight. Aside from the Trojans fight song, there was not a sound to be heard in Columbus. The kid scientist, with nerves of steel, sent ’em home with their hands in their pockets. Another Ohio State loss; another heartbreak.

Two wide-eyed 19-year-old kids from California got it done on Saturday night. Tate Forcier — an under-the-radar Rodriguez recruit who used to attend Notre Dame quarterback camps as a kid — and Matt Barkley — the No. 1 high school player of the year in ’08 and everybody’s All-American — were the heroes of the day.

The former introduced himself to the country with big stats, fancy footwork and big plays down the stretch. The latter did it with brains, patience and steely confidence. It seems like their futures will be intertwined forever.

Perhaps the two will meet down the line.

Maybe as soon as this season.

After all, the Rose Bowl is the site of this year’s BCS Championship Game.

A California homecoming for two true freshmen quarterbacks, the Pac-10 and the Big 10, a rich rivalry renewed … it sure sounds good to me.

Getting a little ahead of myself?

Hey, you never know. After what we saw out of the two kids on Saturday, anything’s possible.

We’re dealing with a rock star and a scientist, here.

Two games into their respective college careers, the sky’s the limit for the two California Boy Wonders.