No team in the nation with the possible exception of Ohio State has a better quarterback situation than USC this season with senior Cody Kessler (315-of-452, 69.7 percent, 3,826 yds, 39 TD, five interceptions in 2014, with two rushing TDs and a 33.0-yard average on seven punts) back for his final season and third as a starter.
But the Heisman and All-American candidate, the Manning and Unitas award finalist, isn't alone although his amazing 2014 season puts him in a place all by himself. No quarterback in the nation threw as many passes with just five interceptions as he finished as the country's third-most accurate passer. His stats don't end there. He was fourth in passing efficiency (167.1) and passing TDs, eighth in completions (24.3 a game), 12th in passing yards (294.3) and 24th in total offense (282.6). Not a bad year.
And that's before you look at the seven records Kessler set or tied last year -- for completions (315), completion percentage, passing efficiency, interception rate (1.11), TD passes and 300-yard passing games (seven). His seven TD passes against Colorado is a a USC game record and no one ever threw six TD passes against Notre Dame in a game until Cody did last November.
Kessler comes into the season with a career completion percentage of 67.9% and interception rate of 1.47, both better than 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart's, whose USC records are 64.8 percent and 1.85 percent.
Doesn't sound like a guy who needs much help but he'll have it if he needs it. Ready to step in if and when the time comes is Max Browne, a redshirt sophomore who was the nation's No. 1 prep player three years ago and someone Steve Sarkisian clearly would like to see get the chance with the way he's developed in his time here.
"I have the utmost confidence in Max," Sark says.
While the USC media guide says that "several young returning players will compete to back up Kessler," they won't. This job belongs to Max, who played in six games last fall but has become a starter-capable guy during and after spring.
Behind him wll be the athletic, lefty Jalen Greene who will alternate some at wide receiver. Then there's junior Conner Sullivan, who won himself a scholarship this spring for his work as a deft holder on placekicks. He can also run it and pass it. And has played baseball and now does track and field.
And that's not the end of it. Ricky Town from St. Bonaventure High in Ventura, and Sam Darnold from San Clemente High, have been incorporated into the summer throwing sessions. Town made it in early for spring practice, Darnold did not. But both have had their moments this summer although it would be a shock if either didn't redshirt.*** SARK SAYS: “It is always an advantage to have a senior quarterback leading your team. Nobody ever has had the kind of season Cody had last year and went as unnoticed as he did, but that serves as great motivation for him this season. He has a chip on his shoulder and I expect him to have another outstanding season. He has good vision and smarts, delivers a very accurate ball, is mobile, is able to make quick decisions and does a great job of leading our offense. Behind him, we have quality depth.”
Michael Bowman, RFr.
Max Browne, So.
Sam Darnold, In. Fr.
Jalen Greene, RFr.
Cody Kessler, Sr.
Conner Sullivan, Jr.
Ricky Town, Fr.
Larry Tuileta, RFrFirst in a series of fall position previews: Tomorrow: running backs.
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