What do you do with a true freshman 5-star quarterback who is competing with two more experienced players at his position? Do you start him, redshirt him or lock him in as a reserve?
Those are the options facing USC head coach Lane Kiffin as he spends his summer mulling over which of his three quarterbacks will start this fall.
Is it redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler, who has patiently waited his turn behind Matt Barkley? Is it redshirt sophomore Max Wittek, who was thrust into the starting role against Notre Dame and Georgia Tech after Barkley went down with an injury against UCLA?
Or is it highly coveted 2013 recruit Max Browne, who had a great spring camp?
Kiffin's decision is critical for several reasons. His job security may depend on making the right choice. It's most likely Rose Bowl or bust for Kiffin.
Redshirting Browne could backfire if Kessler or Wittek were to get hurt. Who would be left as the reserve? Starting Browne could cause Wittek and Kessler to take their talents somewhere else after this season. Both would have two years of eligibility to offer an FBS school.
This decision by Kiffin isn't just about who deserves it the most. Politics play into this.
Browne could follow Barkley's footsteps and be the next four-year starter at USC. But Kessler and Wittek likely won't stick around if that were to happen. That's why Browne won't be named the starting quarterback. Maybe they all will.
Could this be a quarterback-by-committee approach for USC? It's not out of the question. Having all three quarterbacks start during the season would probably squelch any transfers. Most fans don't like the committee approach because it implies that no one separated himself from the others as a leader.
But USC is still under an NCAA-imposed 10-scholarship reduction and in survival mode for one more year. It has to preserve its thin roster. And its future quarterbacks.
Browne completed 7 of 11 passes for 80 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Browne also took a couple of sacks, which Kiffin said was one of the few negatives on the day.“It’s hard to learn to throw the ball away,” Kiffin said of Browne.
Browne is 6'5", 215 pounds and will have to add bulk to his 18-year-old body this summer. He stands tall in the pocket, has a strong arm and is accurate. He is a traditional dropback passer.
With Browne at QB, USC's offense would look similar to 2002's under then-quarterback Carson Palmer. Palmer was not very athletic when flushed out of the pocket. Imagine a scarecrow running for his life with anchors attached to his feet.
Palmer, like Browne, is 6' 5" and had a height advantage that allowed him to see the play develop. He didn't try to scramble under pressure. He threw the ball away. Under Palmer, USC ran a pro-style offense. Run the ball and wait for the passing game to open up.
If Browne is named the starter, expect to see the same. He's not athletic when flushed out—he needs to throw the ball away when the pocket collapses.
Having talented veteran receivers Nelson Agholor, Victor Blackwell and Marqise Lee at his disposal makes the passing game more of a viable option.
Browne could be expected to throw a lot of short passes to build his confidence early in the season. Think West Coast offense. But after two or three games, expect an air show. Browne is a huge downfield threat and Kiffin won't ask him to dink-pass his way down the field.
USC fans want to forget the misery of 2012. The porous defense. The vanilla play-calling. The stuttering offense.
Browne could re-energize the Trojan fans with his arm, or the future of USC football could be relegated to the sidelines with a clipboard in his hands.
We'll find out in 99 days.
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