For the second straight season, the USC Trojans will host an offseason quarterback battle featuring Cody Kessler and some guy named Max.
Last season it was Max Wittek, but after he made the decision to transfer, it'll be Max Browne challenging the incumbent starter for his job. A third horse, early enrollee Jalen Greene, will be in the race, though Kessler and Browne have started the spring as the clear No. 1 and 2.
This year's battle will carry some extra intrigue with the presence of new head coach Steve Sarkisian. Sark has brought a no-huddle hurry-up attack with him from Washington, where he put up impressive numbers with Keith Price and Bishop Sankey at the helm last year.
He explained what Trojans fans can expect from the new offense in 2014, per USCTrojans.com:
We will be an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. Our style will be somewhat reminiscent of what the offense was at USC when I was here before, but it will just be run at a lot faster pace. We want to be a team that runs the ball effectively and throws the ball efficiently.
It is critical this spring for our offense to understand the principles of operation of the no-huddle, while at the same time we must teach them the offensive schemes. We want to go fast, but we want to execute at a high level of success. The key is the ability to do both.
With all three quarterbacks learning a new system, it might come down to which player can best adapt to the change.
Come along as we outline what each of USC's battling QBs must do to earn the starting job this spring.
The Incumbent: Cody Kessler
It might sound strange, but Kessler will actually carry less pressure into the battle than his challengers.
He's the returning starter and the only one with any playing experience. The redshirt junior is coming off a solid season in which he threw for nearly 3,000 yards with 20 touchdowns and just seven interceptions.
It is Kessler, not Browne or Greene, who made the cover of USC's Spring Prospectus. Kessler is one of the stars of the program, a status he solidified his last time on the field, when he threw for 345 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Trojans to a 45-20 Las Vegas Bowl win over Derek Carr and Fresno State.
All he has to do is show that he can pick up and run the new offense to Sarkisian's standards.
Unless one of the other two quarterbacks shows they can do it better, it seems likely that Kessler will at least start the season at No. 1 on the depth chart.
That's when the real pressure will hit Kessler's shoulders. If he can't do enough on the field once the season starts, then his job could be in jeopardy.
The Challenger: Max Browne
Browne has the most impressive accolades of the three quarterbacks in this battle. He came to USC as the No. 1 quarterback and No. 11 overall prospect in the 247Sports composite rankings in the 2013 recruiting class.
He is also the biggest of the bunch at 6'5", 215 pounds. A native of Sammamish, Wash., Browne was recruited by Sarkisian coming out of high school, so there is a bit of familiarity between the two.
|Cody Kessler||RS JR||6'1", 215||2,968 YDS, 20 TD, 7 INT (2013)|
|Max Browne||RS FR||6'5", 215||5-star, No. 1 P-QB, No. 11 OVR, No. 1 WA|
|Jalen Greene||FR||6'3", 195||3-star, No. 13 D-QB, No. 483 OVR, No. 46 CA|
Stats: USCTrojans.com, Recruit Rankings: 247Sports Composite
The redshirt freshman has an excellent arm and is perceived as the quarterback of the future, but he has to put those skills to work and show that he is clearly a more skilled player than Kessler.
As the inexperienced challenger, Browne will have to convince Sarkisian and the rest of the USC staff that he can bring more to the offense than a proven QB in Kessler.
Sark has already been talking as if it'll be on Browne and Greene to simply push Kessler to be better—making it look like Kessler will have the job unless one of the two prospects behind him can show incredible promise, per USCTrojans.com:
We have a very talented quarterback group. We have 3 players who can handle the things we'll ask them to do. It's a very competitive position. I'm excited to see Max and Jalen perform and I know they will push Cody to make him even better.
The Newcomer: Jalen Greene
The arrival of Greene to the battle is certainly intriguing.
The Gardena, Calif., native (and product of Junipero Serra) was a 3-star recruit and enrolled early to add some speed to USC's quarterback bout.
Greene will, without a doubt, be the most mobile of the three contenders. That will give the true freshman an advantage that Kessler and Browne simply don't have.
Greene's presence is especially interesting given Sarkisian's quarterback history while at Washington. He has regularly fielded mobile signal-callers, starting with Jake Locker and ending with Keith Price.
Even with that asset on his side, Greene will have to show a lot to move past both Browne and Kessler into the top spot. Right now, it looks like Greene will need time to develop his arm before he can be considered a legitimate threat for the job.
Who will be USC's Week 1 starter?
Predicted Starter: Kessler
With spring practice and fall camp still to be played through, Kessler remains the clear favorite to win the job, simply because it is currently his to lose.
Nothing trumps experience, especially at the quarterback position.
While it is certainly conceivable that Sarkisian would want to plug in a new quarterback to make his stamp on the program, he also knows that the best way to start a new job is to win. An experienced quarterback looks like the best option for victory at this point.
During the coming months, it'll be on Browne and Greene to prove otherwise.