Quarterback Cody Kessler is in the driver's seat of the USC offense for 2014. He can keep firm control of the steering wheel by adhering to a strict road map.
Trojans head coach Steve Sarkisian made an authoritative, if not controversial stance at the conclusion of spring practice last month, naming redshirt junior Kessler the team's No. 1 quarterback. Despite starting last season and leading USC to 10 wins, Kessler was embroiled in a well-publicized competition with redshirt freshman Max Browne.
Browne will continue to push Kessler when the Trojans reconvene for preseason camp in August. Sarkisian had high praise for Browne on a May 1 Pac-12 teleconference call, via Pac-12.com:
Max had a tremendous spring...He showed tremendous development, not only physically but mentally. He's a really good fit for what we're doing offensively, and to Max's credit, he's an unbelievable competitor. He's going to continue to compete with Cody all the way through. And I believe when Max's number is called, he's going to play great football for us.
For Kessler to maintain his spot atop the depth chart, he must build on the momentum he established down the stretch of 2013.
Kessler progressed nicely over the course of the campaign, overcoming a tumultuous start to lead USC to a 7-2 finish. The Trojans offense operated much more efficiently as the quarterback gained confidence.
A cornerstone of Sarkisian's offense is a power-run game, of which redshirt junior running back Javorius "Buck" Allen is sure to be central. Allen also proved integral to Kessler's play.
Kessler and Allen developed a chemistry during the Trojans' second-half run. Allen became a more integral part of the offense, starting with USC's win over Arizona and exploding when the Trojans visited Oregon State. At the same time, Kessler flourished.
The tandem connected as passer and receiver 22 times for 252 yards last season.
Kessler also built an evident on-field rapport with wide receiver Nelson Agholor, the team's No. 1 target a season ago. He will again be the focal point of the Trojans' passing attack, but Kessler's ability to find a consistent corps of receivers is necessary to keep defenses from overwhelming Agholor.
USC cannot afford another rocky start, particularly with Pac-12 rival Stanford looming as the second opponent on the schedule. To that end, Kessler must find a way to operate effectively behind an offensive line still on a steep learning curve.
Kessler faced a similar proposition a season ago and struggled initially. As the line's collective performance improved, so too did Kessler.
This year's front five isn't just having to integrate some new faces. Depth is of greater concern, and veterans like Max Tuerk are acclimating to new positions.
"Solidifying our offensive line," was a lingering concern Sarkisian addressed on the teleconference call. "Who's going to be where and the depth...is one key component for us."
All of this is happening while the team learns a new offense, too. Kessler explained the challenges of the hurry-up, no-huddle scheme to Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated:
Sometimes it's difficult because you want to talk to guys between plays. You can't do that. If you miss a throw or miss a play, you can't sit there and be upset about it because you have to run three or four plays after that.
To that end, improvisation is crucial to Kessler's early-season success—both in how he calls plays, and how he reacts to any potential breakdowns in blocking.
Kessler has his new head coach's confidence and the starting quarterback job. Now it's up to the redshirt junior to lead the Trojans offense to success in 2014.
Statistics compiled via CFBStats.com.