USC got it right.
Clay Helton got it right.
And most importantly, Max Browne and Sam Darnold got it right.
They set the tone, all of them did, for how you compete and be great teammates and really good friends. Because that has to be the difference for this USC football team. At every spot, on every day, in preparation for every game, you must compete. And you can. And you'd better.
It's what the NCAA took away with those 30 scholarships. You had to compete to be the kind of good USC was accustomed to being - but the Trojans couldn't. Now they can.
And as Max and Sam showed, with Clay's approval, they will. This is how you do it.
And as much as we must compliment Max for winning it and Clay for getting it right, we have to say that none of this would have been possible without Sam showing up last summer and making himself the kind of player he is right now. The kind of player none of the high school talent rating guys thought he could be.
What kind of player is that? A quarterback Helton said, who USC could go into any game with -- and with the thought that the Trojans could expect to win just as if it were Max.
Easy to say. But there's no question Clay means it. Because it's pretty much true.
Sam believes it. And more importantly his teammates and coaches do. They've seen what he can do. And how he does it. How quick and strong his arm is. How equally quick his feet are. And how totally fearless he can be. He's out there to make plays. He's not thinking he's a redshirt freshman who's never answered the bell in a college game.
Let's face it, this should not have been close. Max has played exactly the way everybody expected him to. The way he expected himself to. He's mentally tough and looks very much the product of four Fall Camps at USC. He also looks very much the part of a guy who's 40 percent of the way through to his Marshall School MBA.
And yes, he looks the part of the top pro-system high school quarterback in the nation that he was four years ago at Washington's Sammamish HS. He also looks the part of a USC quarterback, another one who's had to wait three years to get his chance the way Matt Leinart, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez did.
Obviously the perfect scenario for this to work out is not what Max said the other day when he told us when we talked to him the same time next August, he'd have completed his MBA. USC fans hope that's not the case. Hope that Max has the kind of season this year where it makes sense for him to move on to the NFL and he finishes up his MBA as an NFL player.
And Sam does not have to wait his three years. He'll be ready. If you saw what he said Saturday after hearing the word from Clay, he'll be ready every week this season. When you think of it, while some of the top teams on the USC schedule are still trying to figure out who their quarterback is, USC just might have its quarterback -- or quarterbacks -- set for the next three or four years.
If we had to guess, he'll have some work to do for this team. There will be a "Sam" package or two. This staff doesn't seem to be afraid of that possibility. Nor should they be.
But after the way he's conducted himself, the way he led this team from the minute last season finished up, the way he's been so consistent through the winter, spring and summer, the way he bounced back from the one bad day he had at the worst possible time this week, the way he moves in the pocket, the way he can make all the throws that USC needs him to, the way he throws that over-the-top play action with ease, the way he handles the ball in the run game, Max is the man for this spot to lead what USC fans can only hope is the bounce-back-to-the-top Trojan team.
Not necessarily a team that wins it all, or should win it all, but a team that thinks it can beat anybody on its toughest-in-the-nation schedule.
And while some will say Max was the "safe" call for a "conservative" coach, it was not. It was the confident call. It was the call that said Clay thinks this USC offense can play the way it's designed to play -- a physical, run-first offense that can do a number of things and can stay on the field with Alabama and Stanford in two of the first three weeks.
An offense that will take what teams give it and has the explosive pieces in place -- the running backs, wide receivers and tight ends -- to do so. It doesn't need the quarterback to make scramble plays or add another dimension to that three-pronged attack.
An offense that they might choose to go "tempo" and play fast against the likes of Alabama and Stanford and see if those teams can handle it. Because it's clear, they believe Max can.
But then so can Sam.
Had USC and Clay not let this play out, They wouldn't really have known.
Now they do.
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