Buy or Sell Steve Sarkisian's USC Team as Legitimate National Title Contenders

Sean FryeFeatured ColumnistFebruary 28, 2014

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The drama of USC's 2013 campaign could've been more accurately played in an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. The Trojans fired Lane Kiffin, turned things around under interim coach Ed Orgeron, but Orgeron later left the school after being passed over for the head coaching job by Steve Sarkisian.

While there is still a new head coach in town, in a way the waters have calmed at USC. Sarkisian is a familiar face to Trojans fans, having been their offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach throughout the 2000s.

While Sarkisian was at USC as an assistant, the Trojans routinely were in the national title hunt. That has fans believing that Sarkisian is the right man to get USC back to that elite status in the nation. And they're hoping it happens as early as this year. 

But if you're tasked with buying or selling USC as a College Football Playoff and/or national title contender in 2014, sell it. 


The Trojans don't have a good enough quarterback to make them title contenders. They also lost too much talent to graduation or the NFL draft. And in all honesty, it usually takes more than a year for a new head coach to get his system fully established at his new school. 

Returning starting quarterback Cody Kessler and highly touted redshirt freshman Max Browne will be battling it out for the starting signal-caller job this offseason. But the fact of the matter is that, unless Browne wins the job and has a Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston-type freshman campaign, the Trojans won't have a good enough QB to compete for a national title. 

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To be elite in the Pac-12, and as a whole nationally, you have to be solid at the quarterback position. That holds true from the NFL all the way down to Pop Warner. Kessler wasn't great last year, throwing for just 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns—with Marqise Lee as a weapon, too.

Who knows though, maybe Browne could be the third freshman to win the Heisman. He was a 5-star recruit according to 247sports, and had offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Oklahoma. 

But lightning has already struck twice with Manziel and Winston, so three times is highly unlikely from just an odds standpoint. Plus, if he doesn't clearly establish himself as the better quarterback in spring practice over Kessler, than he might not ever do so. 

Secondly, as mentioned earlier, Lee is gone. No longer do the Trojans have one of the best receivers to ever step foot on that campus. Yes, Lee's numbers dropped significantly last season, but that's because he had Kessler instead of Matt Barkley throwing him the ball. 

With guys like Morgan Breslin and Dion Bailey gone as well, it'll be tough for a young Trojans squad learning a new system to go as far as national title contenders. 

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 21:  Marqise Lee #9 of the USC Trojans reacts after getting a first down against the Fresno State Bulldogs during the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl at Sam Boyd Stadium on December 21, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. USC won 45-20.  (Phot
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Sarkisian is certainly a great coach and a great fit back at USC. But the damage Kiffin did was enough that it'll take at least two seasons for Sarkisian to get the athletes he wants wearing that garnet and gold to run the system the way he wants it ran. 

Browne provides a bit of an X-factor for the Trojans. If he establishes himself as the next great USC signal-caller, the wins should start piling up quickly. But don't bank on a freshman adjusting to a new coaching staff that quickly. 

Sarkisian should be able to get the Trojans back to an elite status, and he'll do it relatively quickly. But Rome wasn't built in a day, and USC will take longer than a year to completely fix. So when it comes to buying or selling the Trojans as national title contenders in 2014, selling is the best option.