USC Football: 5 Toughest QBs Trojans Will Battle in 2013

Brian Leigh@@BLeighDATFeatured ColumnistJuly 19, 2013

USC Football: 5 Toughest QBs Trojans Will Battle in 2013

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    USC is expected to take a major step back under center this year, losing the Pac-12's all-time leading passer in Matt Barkley and replacing him with a cast of unproven players.

    Fortunately for the Trojans, the quarterbacks they face are expected to downgrade in quality too.

    They miss out on Marcus Mariota (Oregon) and Keith Price (Washington) within the conference, and Matt Scott is gone from Arizona. Plus, unlike last year's showdown with Ryan Nassib and Syracuse, no NFL-caliber arms lurk on the nonconference schedule.

    But that doesn't mean it will all be smooth sailing. The Trojans still play in the loaded Pac-12 and still have a couple of capable nonconference opponents.

    USC lucked out by missing Oregon, but unless the secondary improves in a hurry, it faces enough talented QBs to struggle again this year.

5. Tommy Rees, Notre Dame

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    It's hard to believe, but given the dearth of quality starting quarterbacks on USC's schedule, a guy who was supposed to be a backup is one of the Trojans' five toughest opponents.

    That said, Tommy Rees is far from your average supposed-to-be backup. He's thrown for 4,413 yards and 34 touchdowns in three years at Notre Dame, both of which exceed almost every other Trojans opponent.

    Rees led a 20-16 Irish upset at the Coliseum as a freshman and is 43-of-69 (62.3 percent) with 339 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions in his career against the Trojans.

    He'll need to cut down those turnovers if he wants to notch his second win in the series. 

4. Taylor Kelly, Arizona State

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    Taylor Kelly came from nowhere to lead the Arizona Sun Devils somewhere last year. And the hope in Tempe is that he can guide them even further in 2013.

    He struggled at USC last season, throwing for just 174 yards and three interceptions on 30 passes. He also rushed for a season-low minus-nine yards. But Kelly excelled, for the most part, over the rest of 2012, finishing the season with 3,039 passing yards, 516 rushing yards and 30 total touchdowns.

    The Trojans also travel to Arizona State in 2013, where Kelly was markedly better last season. His QB rating was 188.3 in Tempe (61 points higher than on the road), where he also completed 74.3 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

    If Kelly continues that trend as a junior, the Trojans could have their hands full.

3. Chuckie Keeton, Utah State

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    Former coach Gary Andersen expected a lot from Chuckie Keeton. He became a full-time starter as a true freshman at Utah State and was entrusted with the keys to a high-powered attack.

    The results have been rosy (5,378 total yards and 49 total touchdowns in 20 full games), but now with Andersen in Wisconsin, even more has been placed on Keeton's slight but capable shoulders.

    Especially considering the Aggies' schedule. They move from the WAC to the much-tougher Mountain West in 2013 and also play two Pac-12 opponents—in-state rival Utah and, of course, USC.

    Keeton has been okay on the road in his career, completing a lower percentage but throwing just four interceptions in 306 attempts.

    He's never seen anything quite like the Coliseum, though, so USC might be able to force some mistakes.

2. Brett Hundley, UCLA

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    USC got UCLA at the exact wrong time last year, coming off of four straight victories and playing its best football of the season. That holds especially true for Brett Hundley, then a freshman, who posted his fifth straight game with a 150-plus QB rating against the Trojans.

    Hundley didn't get out of the pocket much against USC last year, but he didn't need to: He completed 22-of-30 passes for 234 yards and no picks. It was a poised-beyond-his-years performance from a player making his first foray into a storied matchup.

    Unlike Kelly, who struggled at the Coliseum and the road in general last year, Hundley might be able to deal with USC's home crowd, too. He actually completed a higher percentage of passes on the road last year (though he did throw more interceptions) and nearby UCLA will have a strong in-person contingent on game day.

    Which is all to say: USC's defense can't hope for regression to stop Hundley. The defense, itself, needs to show improvement. 

1. Kevin Hogan, Stanford

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    Kevin Hogan wasn't Andrew Luck last year, and he won't be Andrew Luck in 2013. But then, just like now, he didn't need to be. Being Kevin Hogan proved more than adequate.

    Stanford's newest QB is now 6-0 as a starter, flashing remarkable efficiency and surprising poise down the stretch in 2012. Much like A.J. McCarron his first year starting at Alabama, he played within the system, completed a high percentage of passes and let his teammates take care of the rest.

    Here's how those two stack up after six career starts:

    K. Hogan6-071.51,08783145.8
    A. McCarron6-065.31,15682146.3

    Kind of spooky how similar those are, right?

    Hogan missed USC last season (though now-retired Josh Nunes led Stanford to what was then considered a massive upset), so the Trojans won't have any personalized scouting. If Hogan exploits that with the same coherence he did opponents last year, they could be in for a long game.