COLUMBIA -- The comparisons were inevitable but did not mean much until South Carolina receiver Jason Barnes started catching everything thrown his way.
Until then, Barnes was just a guy who happened to be built like and wore the same jersey number as Sidney Rice, the former Gamecocks receiver in his second year with the Minnesota Vikings.
But now that USC fans have had a few games to watch Barnes in action, the Rice comparisons do not seem so far-fetched. Like Rice, Barnes is a lean 6-4 with the same loping stride, soft hands and familiar No. 4 jersey.
No wonder fellow Gamecock receivers Kenny McKinley and Moe Brown refer to Barnes as "little Sid."
"We first told him when he got here, 'Hey, man, you might not want to wear that number because there's going to be a lot of hype around the person who had it before you,'" McKinley said Wednesday. "He told me that he was going to be better than Sidney. I was like, 'We'll see.' But he's coming around to make his name."
Barnes, a redshirt freshman from Charlotte, arguably has been USC's best receiver since moving into the starting lineup three weeks ago. He has caught 14 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns during that span after making two receptions in his first seven games.
Barnes pulled down seven passes at Ole Miss for 76 yards and two touchdowns, holding on for his first career score despite a vicious hit that took his helmet off.
Held without a catch for three quarters last week at Kentucky, Barnes came alive with four receptions for 88 yards in the fourth quarter of the Gamecocks' come-from-behind victory.
He made a nifty sideline grab at Ole Miss, laid out for a deep slant to convert a third-and-12 at Kentucky and has shown a knack for making the clutch catches.
"Those are special plays," USC receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said. "He certainly has a chance to be a special player."
Barnes met Rice during an unofficial visit to USC in 2006, Rice's final year with the Gamecocks before leaving early for the NFL. Barnes was told he would wear No. 1, but was assigned No. 4 after Rice departed with two years of eligibility remaining.
"That's all I was hearing: 'You look just like Sidney Rice. You're going to be like Sidney Rice,'" Barnes said. "Then they gave me his number. It was like, 'Ah, man.' It was exciting to know that coach trusted me with that number to fill his shoes."
But Spurrier Jr. told Barnes he did not expect him to be the next Rice.
"You do look like him, you run like him and have a chance to do some of the things that Sidney did," Spurrier Jr. recalled saying. "But we want you to be the best Jason Barnes you can be."
Barnes was part of a USC receiving class that Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the country last year. Barnes caught a head-turning 84 passes for 1,413 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior to help lead Independence High to its seventh consecutive state title.
Barnes, who finished with six receptions for 80 yards in the championship game, did not lose a game during his high school career. Despite his boast to McKinley and his experience with one of the nation's most successful high school programs, Barnes realized early on his transition to the SEC would include a few bumps.
"I was real confident when I first came in. But the first couple of practices took all my confidence away because I was being jammed up by Carlos (Thomas) and Captain (Munnerlyn)," he said.
Barnes played in the first four games last season, including his first start at LSU. But after injuring his left foot against the Tigers, Barnes sat out the rest of the season and was granted a medical redshirt.
Barnes, who ran the 40-yard dash last spring in 4.49 seconds, is faster than Rice, who was in the 4.6 range, according to Spurrier Jr. But Rice, the Vikings' second-round pick in 2007, could pull passes in with defensive backs draped on him.
Rice owns USC's single-season receiving records for yards (1,143 in 2005) and touchdowns (13 in '05), as well as the career touchdown receptions mark with 23.
McKinley, who became USC's all-time receptions leader last week, believes Barnes stacks up well with Rice other than leaping ability.
"He can't jump like Sidney. ... But he's much quicker and actually faster than Sidney," McKinley said. "I'd love to see him in a couple of years when he's really at his peak."
This is not the first time Barnes has followed big-time receivers. At Independence, he was two years behind Mohamed Massaquoi, in his final season at Georgia, and a year behind Hakeem Nicks, a junior at North Carolina.
"I always had to fill shoes," Barnes said. "I think that's what makes me a good player. I feel like I have to live up to the person in front of me."
But if he continues to get open and pull down fade routes in the end zone, Barnes could leave behind his own legacy at USC.
"I want the next No. 4 to come through here and everybody be like, 'Be like Jason Barnes.'"