If USC does have a front-runner at quarterback, first-year coach Steve Sarkisian isn't tipping his hand.
As of last week, Sarkisian said he has not named a starter between Cody Kessler and Max Browne and had no real timeline to do so (early enrollee Jalen Greene does not appear to be in the running). Of course, the Trojans have only been practicing for a week—a not-so-subtle link to B/R's practice report goes here—so there's a lot of time for Sarkisian to name a starter.
Via Rich Hammond of the Orange County Register, Sarkisian says he'll break his silence when the time is right:
When it feels right. I’m not putting a deadline on it. When it feels right, when it looks right, I’ll probably let it sit one more practice, just to be sure, and then we will make a decision. Right now, we’re just gathering information and installing our stuff.
Do fans need to be concerned about that? Not now.
Generally speaking, this is standard operating procedure, especially for a new coaching staff that's getting to know the roster. Via Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Sarkisian says all positions are up for grabs. Additionally, "Kessler and Browne appear to have received close to the same number of snaps during the first three spring workouts."
With that said, there are a couple of things to consider. The first is that Sarkisian ideally wants to name a starter before spring ends, per Hammond:
Sarkisian said he would ideally name a QB by the end of spring but doesn’t have that as a deadline.— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) March 15, 2014
Secondly, he has a history of doing just that, per Mike Piellucci of 247Sports:
Sarkisian notes he's never named a starting QB in the fall and would prefer to name one by the end of spring. Won't commit to that, though— Mike Piellucci (@mikelikessports) March 15, 2014
With Kessler returning as the incumbent starter after throwing for 2,968 yards and 20 touchdowns, it's easy to think that he has an edge. Browne, meanwhile, redshirted as a true freshman.
However, a coaching change can be an opportunistic time for someone like Browne. Coming in, Sarkisian isn't necessarily married to the idea of Kessler being the starter just because that was the case in 2013. If Browne catches up to Kessler this spring, that may cause Sarkisian to carry the competition over until the fall.
Hammond explores another possible reason:
Sarkisian might be tempted to delay announcing a quarterback until August, simply to reduce the odds of another transfer. Kessler has two years of eligibility remaining, Browne and Greene have four and USC has already received a verbal commitment from top 2015 prep quarterback Ricky Town.
However, it would absolutely behoove Sarkisian to name as a starter if he has a guy in mind. There's no sense in delaying the inevitable when valuable offseason time could be spent getting the first-team offense into shape.
Who will be USC's starting QB in 2014?
Sarkisian's history indicates that if he knows who the quarterback is going to be by April 19, the date of the Trojans' spring game, he'll announce it. Anything else should be a sign that the race is too close to call.
Besides, just because one quarterback is named the Week 1 starter, it doesn't mean he'll end the season that way. Poor play or injuries can always shake things up. Even for Kessler, if he were to lose out on the starting job and transferred with immediate eligibility, he wouldn't be guaranteed playing time elsewhere.
While not ideal, if the competition goes into the fall, it's not the worst thing in the world. Beyond that, though, it's a different story.
If Kessler and Browne see equal playing time in the opener against Fresno State, that sentiment would—and should—change. The longer it does go on, the more anxious fans will feel.
Ben Kercheval is a lead writer for college football at Bleacher Report. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.