Pac-12 Dominates Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award Watch List

Cody Kessler could conjure up something special this season. - Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

USC will face at least seven watch list gun slingers on the schedule.

In a competition with three Davey O'Brien Award watch list semifinalists, USC's signal caller Cody Kessler joins a powerful list of the nation's best college quarterbacks. While no Trojan quarterback has ever won the most prestigious quarterbacking award, Kessler now stands among the nation's 39 honored finalists.

The Davey O'Brien Award honors candidates who exemplify O'Brien's enduring character while exhibiting teamwork, sportsmanship and leadership in both academics and athletics. The prominence of West Coast quarterbacks speaks to the growing strength of both the Pac-12 and Mountain West Conference moving forward.

Less than one calendar year after nestling the job away from Max Wittek, and then once again securing the job in Spring Football, Cody Kessler's gained the confidence of this football team and has found a proper niche distributing the rock. Kessler finished last season throwing 12 touchdowns to just two interceptions in his final seven games, leading USC on an impressive 6-1 stretch pushing them right back into the national conversation.

Now heading into his first full offseason as the Trojans starting quarterback, Kessler's turnover-free approach could blossom with accelerated seasons from pass-catching targets Nelson Agholor, Darreus Rogers, Randall Telfer and Buck Allen. While the competition is fierce, Kessler will have plenty of opportunities to showcase his best skill sets in some tantalizing head-to-head meetings of strong quarterbacking play.

In terms of his overall development, Cody Kessler dazzled just last week at Peyton Manning's Passing Academy making it all the way to the semifinals of the accuracy challenge, eventually falling to Oregon State's champion Sean Mannion.

WEST COAST-BEST COAST

Jared Goff (California, Sophomore)
Everett Golson (Notre Dame, Junior)
Connor Halliday (Washington State, Senior)
Kevin Hogan (Stanford, Junior)
Brett Hundley (UCLA, Junior)
Taylor Kelly (Arizona State, Senior)
Cody Kessler (USC, Junior)
Sean Mannion (Oregon State, Senior)
Marcus Mariota (Oregon, Junior)

Grant Hedrick (Boise State, Senior)
Taylor Heinicke (Old Dominion, Senior)
Taysom Hill (BYU, Junior)
Cody Fajardo (Nevada, Senior)
Chuckie Keeton (Utah State, Senior)

Conference: Pac-12 (8), Big Ten (5), Big 12 (5), SEC (5), MWC (4), American Athletic (3), Independents (3), ACC (2), Conference USA (2), Mid-American (1), Sun Belt (1).

BETTER RELY ON PASS DEFENSE

If the daunting slate of competition over the past two years doesn't inflict enough discouraging news, the thought of trying to slow down these quarterbacks with an inexperienced secondary should definitely peak intrigued eyes and ears.

The Trojans defensive pass rush, which should be just as good if not better than last year, will need fantastic campaigns from Leonard Williams and Antwaun Woods creating pressure up the middle. While defensive line play will be crucial, the biggest influence on opposing squads passing game centers around whether J.R. Tavai, Scott Starr and Jabari Ruffin can generate a legitimate pass rush on the outside, replacing leading contributors Morgan Breslin and Devon Kennard.

Combine the much-improved Pac-12 passing attacks with the core of Biletnikoff Award watch list players on the outside, and the Trojans will certainly have their hands full on defensive side of the ball. While the court is still out as to whether Everett Golson can return to circa 2012 levels with Notre Dame, the trio of talented Pac-12 quarterbacks in Brett Hundley, Connor Halliday and Sean Mannion could be the toughest stretch of pure pocket passers that any team will be suited to face.

The question now becomes whether USC can keep up with high-tempo offenses that will attempt to throw the football 40-50 times per game, whether they fall behind early or just want to fire quick-hitting strikes. Trust that offensive coordinators will watch the tape and will try to test the Trojans secondary depending on how things start early in the year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL AWARD SEASON

Mon., July 7: Bednarik Award / Maxwell Award
Tue., July 8: Mackey Award / Rimington Trophy
Wed., July 9: Lou Groza Award / Ray Guy Award
Thurs., July 10: Bronko Nagurski Trophy / Outland Trophy
Fri., July 11: Jim Thorpe Award
Mon., July 14: Butkus Award / Rotary Lombardi Award
Tue., July 15: Biletnikoff Award (Nelson Agholor) 
Wed., July 16: Davey O'Brien Award
Thurs., July 17: Doak Walker Award
Fri., July 18: Walter Camp Award

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