As the clock ticks down to the start of the regular season, each and every position battle on the roster looks suited for some strong discussion around the present confidence and future promise of the roster. We will put the major position battles under the microscope before the start of coach Sarkisian's Fall Camp.
What better place to start than the position that runs the ship on offense, one with immense talent across the board. The Trojans may run three-deep on depth chart as freshman Jalen Greene will provide a nice dual-threat option for the scout defense during practice, but the focus of our discussion centers around the emergent play of Cody Kessler along with the healthy competition provided from talented Max Browne.
Key Returners: Cody Kessler (Redshirt Jr.), Max Browne (Redshirt Fr.)
Key Losses: Max Wittek (Redshirt Jr.)
After a brief competition during spring ball, Coach Sark handed the reigns of his no-huddle uptempo offense to incumbent starter Cody Kessler. The redshirt junior looks to improve upon a promising end to his 2013 campaign.
Despite splitting time early on with the now transferred Max Wittek, Kessler progressed steadily throughout the season, culminating in a dominant performance against Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl. Kessler impressed, throwing for 345 yards, four touchdowns while completing 73 percent of his passes.
Heading into this season, Trojan fans will be hoping that this is just the beginning of Kessler’s full evolution from a game- manager to commanding signal caller. This transformation will also be important for the success of Sarkisian’s new high-speed attack that continues to take shape each and every day on the field.
Building upon that late season success (6-1 record, 12 TD's-to-2 INT's), Kessler was dynamic right from the start of Spring Football. Upon naming him starter, Sark said:
"He knows where he's going with the football… He's got a great deal of confidence. I love his leadership in the locker room with the players. He can throw the deep ball extremely well and he has enough athleticism to buy himself some time to create some plays down the field."
This decisiveness, leadership and confidence will be critical to Kessler’s performance this upcoming fall. After emerging leader Nelson Agohlor, Kessler will be dealing with a largely inexperienced receiving corp, and he will need said leadership to groom the likes of Darreus Rogers, George Farmer and Victor Blackwell with vital passing sessions.
Browne certainly benefited from sitting back and absorbing the play book last season, and could still push Cody Kessler to excel his game during Fall Camp. If we learned anything from last year's fiasco, awarding Kessler the job will only push Browne more to hopefully resurrect his name in the discussion for starting quarterback. The redshirt freshman has taken the role with assured grace, which makes us believe he will continue to take his mental reps and prepare for next season, where he could theoretically win the starting job if Kessler were to declare for the NFL Draft.
In Max Browne, the Trojans have an immensely talented backup and a very bright hope for the future. After giving Kessler a good run for the starting job in the spring, it appears Browne is destined to remain in back-up duties for the time being.
Despite this setback for the former Skyline High School Player of the Year, Browne's stated a number of times that he has no intention of transferring and will continue to work toward winning starting job in the years to come.
Overall, USC should see better leadership, confidence and consistency from second-year starter Cody Kessler. Without the turmoil of Lane Kiffin and a revolving door coaching staff, Kessler will receive better instruction and only continue to improve. Look for Kessler, the recently-named candidate for the Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award, to emerge in the ranks of the top quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.