Boasting such names as Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, Rodney Peete and Pat Haden, it's small wonder that NFL.com's Bryan Fischer ranked USC as the No. 1 program with claim to the title Quarterback U.
Thus, it's somewhat ironic that in his first season as head coach, Steve Sarkisian inherited a quarterback controversy.
As a USC assistant, Sarkisian worked with former Trojans and first-round draft picks Leinart, Palmer and Mark Sanchez. He will work to impart the same knowledge on 2014 first-string quarterback Cody Kessler.
But, if for some reason Kessler is sidelined in his second year as the Trojans' starting quarterback, ballyhooed redshirt freshman Max Browne will get the call.
Oh, Sarkisian and offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Clay Helton must also ready USC's leading signal-caller while introducing a new scheme.
1. Redshirt junior Cody Kessler
Kessler's performance through the opening month of the 2013 season and his final stretch were night and day.
|Cody Kessler's Passing Stats through First Five Games of 2013|
|Comp./Att. (Pct.)||Yards (YPG)||TD||INT|
|66/105 (62.8)||832 (166.4)||6||4|
|Cody Kessler's Passing Stats through Final Nine Games of 2013|
|Comp./Att. (Pct.)||Yards (YPG)||TD||INT|
|170/257 (66.1)||2,135 (237.2)||14||3|
His growing confidence was abundantly evident late in the season, and Kessler carried over that positive momentum into the spring. Kessler impressed Sarkisian enough to earn the coach's vote of confidence as first-string quarterback before spring practices concluded.
Indeed, Kessler has a proven knack for winning games. The Trojans went 10-4 in his redshirt sophomore season, and 7-2 after the dismissal of former head coach and play-caller Lane Kiffin. Kiffin's ouster turned duties over to Helton, and Helton opened the playbook to Kessler.
Kessler began making strides before Kiffin's firing, but the quarterback also suffered through three dismal performances against Hawaii, Washington and Utah State.
The former coach's revolving door behind center that had both Kessler and the since-transferred Max Wittek taking snaps through the first two weeks negatively impacted Kessler.
"That got in my head a little bit," he told Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times.
It makes sense, then, that Sarkisian would want a clear No. 1 quarterback going into preseason camp. And Kessler's earned that job. But the role is one Kessler must continue to earn each time he takes the field.
Chemistry developed with running back Javorius "Buck" Allen and wide receiver Nelson Agholor last season will buoy Kessler into 2014. However, his grasp on the Trojans' new hurry-up offensive philosophy will shape his redshirt junior campaign.
2. Redshirt freshman Max Browne
Browne arrived at USC in 2013 with fanfare en tow. He garnered 5-star billing coming out of Skyline High School in Sammamish, Washington, and was rated the nation's top overall pro-style quarterback by 247Sports.
Browne spent his first year in the program learning the nuances of quarterbacking a collegiate offense, but the change in direction for 2014 steepened his learning curve in year two.
Browne explained the challenges of acclimating to the college game to FoxSports.com's Rahshaun Haylock:
You have so many things that are just different—new environment, new teammates, new system but then just the idea of just getting the ball differently, something that's really basic, and that took me a while to get the hang of. I felt like toward the end of the season I got there but it took time.
Despite something of a reboot in his second collegiate season, Browne has familiarity with a spread, hurry-up style from his prep days.
Running Sarkisian's system should be no problem if Browne's number is called. And, if Kessler struggles for any reason, there will be no shortage of Browne supporters calling for the redshirt freshman to see game repetitions.
3. Freshman Jalen Greene
The signing of early enrollee Jalen Greene to USC's 2014 recruiting class indicated the Trojans' shift in offensive philosophy under Sarkisian.
Greene, a 3-star prospect from Southern California prep powerhouse and reliable USC pipeline Gardena Junipero Serra, is a dual-threat playmaker. His style is a departure from the traditional, dropback passer USC favored in the past.
The southpaw Greene used his spring practices as an initiation to the collegiate game, an opportunity to hone his skills. Helton told Haylock of FoxSports.com that Greene made strides:
He has such a powerful arm and usually when you have a powerful arm if you just lean just a hair to the left that ball's going to tend to go to the right a little bit. He's trying to get everything going straight lined to his target. [He's] doing a really nice job of working that.
Barring emergency, Greene should redshirt the coming season as he continues to refine his game.
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