LOS ANGELES - USC coach Pete Carroll warned his veteran players to keep an eye on the freshmen today, even if the No. 4-ranked Trojans are facing lightly regarded San Jose State at the Coliseum.
"I said it's like taking your little brother to the circus," Carroll said. "We don't want them wide-eyed."
The biggest little brother will be 18-year-old Matt Barkley, who becomes the first true freshman quarterback to start the season opener for a preseason top-five team since Rick Leach did it for No. 3 Michigan in 1975.
"What we have to do first is get him calmed down and keep him in the frame of mind to do what we are capable of," Carroll said. "He's been in the Coliseum a number of times and seen a lot from our defense already. I hope he's calm and trusts our preparation."
But Carroll also placed the burden on himself, which probably is only fair since he made the decision to start Barkley, even with sophomore Aaron Corp (cracked fibula) medically cleared to play.
"This is going to require the coaches to do a great job, too," Carroll said. "We've got to make sure we handle this right. We've got a lot of responsibility for what happens."
Leach impressively guided Michigan to an 8-2-2 record and the Wolverines were ranked eighth in the final poll.
That record would be viewed as a subpar season for USC, however.
Things are a far cry from the last time San Jose State played USC in Carroll's first game as Trojans coach in 2001. USC won 21-10, but Carroll does not recall any fond memories.
"I remember the Coliseum was half full and I was disappointed with that," he said. "And we didn't play well enough to generate any energy for the crowd or ourselves."
Things are vastly different today and a crowd of more than 80,000 is expected, many of whom no doubt are focused solely on Barkley. USC is expected to compete for the national championship, but is it too much to ask from a true freshman quarterback?
"Well, we'll find out," Carroll said. "It's not game 12, you know, where we'll know where we are."
Actually, a lot of people think Game 2 at Ohio State next week could answer that question. This makes today's game even more important. Barkley, if nothing else, needs a test drive before he goes on the national stage in perhaps the biggest nonconference game of the season.
The danger for Carroll is everyone else believes USC is playing a glorified scrimmage today. That does nothing for the Trojans, not to mention USC's own problems in the past against heavy underdogs, such as a 24-23 loss to Stanford in 2007.
"We expect we're going to get a great game from (San Jose State)," Carroll said. "I don't know why we'd think anyone would be intimidated. For the most part, teams come here and play like crazy."