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USC FRESHMAN FACES HUGE TEST

LOS ANGELES - 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 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 .

"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 starting job last month. 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.

"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, going 15-for-19 for 233 yards in a 56-3 rout. Carroll liked every throw he made in the conservative game plan that called for mostly rollouts and easy reads.

"It just kind of solidified that I can do this," Barkley said.

"He knows who he is," Carroll said. "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."

TENNESSEE: Gerald Jones, last season's leading receiver, practiced after missing the past two weeks with a high-ankle sprain and most of the offseason with a wrist injury. Guard Vladimir Richard (Achilles' tendon) also is expected to play Saturday against UCLA, and center Josh McNeil, thought to be lost for the season after knee surgery last week, continued to practice. The Vols visit Florida on Sept. 19.

EX-SPARTAN RULED INSANE: Former Michigan State defensive end Hubert Thompson, charged with murder for throwing neighbor James Malone, 66, from a third-floor apartment balcony in 2007, was found not guilty by reason of insanity. Thompson will be confined to a high-security state mental institution. He believed Malone was poisoning his food and marijuana. Thompson was once the nation's top-rated end prospect. He and Florida's Kenyatta Walker were ejected for fighting in the Citrus Bowl held after the 1999 season.

EMERALD BOWL: The bowl has renewed its agreement with the Pac-10 for four years but will no longer have an ACC team in the game in San Francisco starting next season. The opponent will be Army, Navy or a WAC team.

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Basketball

AURIEMMA DAUGHTER's JOB RECONSIDERED: The Hartford Courant says it is re-evaluating its plan to have Connecticut women's coach Geno Auriemma's daughter write a blog about the team. Sports editor Jeff Otterbein hired Alysa Auriemma to give an insider's viewpoint about her father and the team on monthly blog postings for $125 per article. A media ethics expert and journalists called the arrangement a conflict of interest.

ARKANSAS: Sophomore point guard Courtney Fortson might be disciplined over a comment he made Monday on the Internet as police investigated three teammates over an alleged rape, the school said.

SETON HALL: Coach Bobby Gonzalez, 47-46 in three seasons, got a three-year extension through 2014-15.

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Women's soccer

UCF BLANKS FSU: Former Palm Harbor University standout Courtney Whidden, the Times 2005 Pinellas girls soccer player of the year, redirected a cross to score in the second overtime as the host Knights (4-1-1) beat the No. 4 Seminoles (5-1) 1-0.

For news on other sports from our instate colleges, go to tampabay.com/sports and click on More Sports.

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