Matt Barkley did nothing special for his 19th birthday this week. He attended class at Southern California, went to football practice, and visited with his parents when they drove over to campus from Orange County.
He realizes the week's big festivities await him in Ohio, where the freshman quarterback will lead No. 3 USC against eighth-ranked Ohio State on Saturday _ and Barkley doesn't mind that none of those 100,000-plus fans will be singing or bringing him cake.
"I don't get really nervous, and at the same time I'm not going to get super-pumped up," Barkley said. "I probably don't know what I'm in for, but I'm not going to worry about that. I've got my offense, and we could move in Alaska, playing in the snow."
In his second game out of high school, Barkley is about to be tossed into the deep end of the college football pool, otherwise known as Ohio Stadium. Yet USC coach Pete Carroll has little doubt his teenage quarterback can swim just as well as Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor did in the same situation a year ago, when he got his first extensive playing time as a freshman in the Trojans' historic Coliseum.
Barkley seized the Trojans' starting job last month in a remarkably quick rise to the top for the nation's top quarterback recruit last year. He already seems to have his talented teammates' respect for his steady play and calm work ethic, yet he readily acknowledges he's never faced anything similar to what's awaiting him in Columbus this weekend.
"We'll just try to bring him down to Earth on the field," Carroll said. "I would think he's just going to have fun with it. He's going to see what it's like to be against an opponent of such stature, but he has such comfort in his own skin. He's very much at ease, and I think that will be extended to this setting as well."
Barkley debuted against San Jose State last week with a 15-for-19, 233-yard performance in USC's 56-3 rout. Carroll liked every throw he made in the Trojans' conservative game plan, which mostly limited Barkley to rollouts and easy reads.
"It just kind of solidified that I can do this," Barkley said. "It felt good being out there with the guys and getting to know what they do."
Barkley stuck firmly to quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates' instructions, repeatedly executing simple throws and never devolving into the creative gunslinging that made his career at Mater Dei High School so much fun to watch. Barkley's discipline might be the main reason Carroll felt comfortable entrusting the program to him so early on.
"He knows who he is," Carroll said. "He knows what he's all about. He has all these things going for him, or this wouldn't have happened for him. ... He's a remarkable young man. It's a blast coaching him."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has said much the same about Pryor, who also made his first big move on the national scene in the USC-Ohio State game last Sept. 13. After coming in for Todd Boeckman, Pryor gave a taste of the smarts and elusiveness that eventually made him a freshman starter.
Pryor had 40 yards rushing and a 7-for-9 performance against the Trojans, although he couldn't coax any points out of the Buckeyes in a 35-3 thrashing.
Tressel and Carroll don't seem to worry about putting a freshman in such a sticky situation so early in his career _ but not many freshmen in recent years have shown the ability and maturity of the two quarterbacks who will be on display Saturday.
"It all depends upon what part of the load you feel he needs to carry," Tressel said. "We were able, as the season wore on, to run it a little bit better, and we were able to bring Terrelle along at his pace. If you threw a freshman quarterback in there and everyone else is a rookie, it would be frightening, but the beauty that Pete has there is that offensive line is perfectly choreographed. That's as good a situation as you could have."
Barkley's professed cool doesn't bother Ohio State, which has rattled a long line of talented quarterbacks who couldn't function in Ohio Stadium's noise and pressure.
"If he says it, he says it," Buckeyes defensive lineman Doug Worthington said. "That's how he's feeling. I can't tell you if he's going to be scared or whatnot, but if he feels that way, much power to him. When we play out there, we're going to feed off the crowd. If it doesn't hurt him, it's going to definitely help us, so whatever way it goes, it'll be 100,000 watching this game."
USC's first visit to Columbus since 1990 is among the season's biggest nonconference games, with the winner shooting into the thick of the national title chase. The last quarterback to lead USC into Ohio Stadium was Todd Marinovich, another Orange County prodigy _ but with his calm, collected demeanor, Barkley plans to create his own standards.
"I try to stay low," Barkley said. "I'm not a Tim Tebow-like quarterback, playing with emotion. That's him doing his thing. I'm a little different."
AP Sports Writer Rusty Miller in Columbus contributed to this report.