The USC Trojans finished spring workouts without indicating which quarterback has the edge to succeed Matt Barkley as the starter in 2013, but even though it’s officially a three-way race for the job, the smart money says Max Browne won’t follow in Barkley’s footsteps and become USC’s next true freshman starter.
Browne, just like Barkley and the other quarterbacks on the roster, was a highly rated high school quarterback who enrolled early at USC to get a head start in the program and participate in spring workouts. Barkley wasn’t the frontrunner for the job after his first spring either, but it would take an unusual set of circumstances for Browne to pass both Max Wittek and Cody Kessler and be named the starter for the fall.
The newcomer might be the most talented quarterback on the Trojans’ roster, but Wittek and Kessler aren’t slouches and as redshirt sophomores, they have the edge in experience.
Across the nation, it’s becoming more frequent for freshmen to get playing time, but quarterback is among the more difficult positions for a player to pick up well enough to make an immediate impact. Texas A&M‘s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012, but he and other young standouts like Oregon‘s Marcus Mariota and UCLA‘s Brett Hundley were redshirt freshmen.
Even Barkley seemed destined for a redshirt season in 2009, but when projected starter Aaron Corp broke his leg during fall camp, the rookie got his chance and never relinquished the starting role.
With so little separation between Wittek and Kessler over the last few seasons — they were members of the same recruiting class, they both enrolled early, and they were neck-and-neck for the back-up role in fall camp last year — it would be a longshot for Browne to see the field even if something were to happen to one of the more experienced QBs.
The smart decision is to redshirt Browne this season. Unless he’s significantly better than either of USC’s other options, which he isn’t so far, there’s just no reason for him to waste a year of eligibility. Trojans’ head coach Lane Kiffin hasn’t hesitated to start true freshmen, but he was very judicious about maintaining Kessler and Wittek’s redshirts in 2011 and should do the same for Browne.
USC might bill it as an open quarterback competition heading into fall camp, but expect Browne to stay on the sidelines this season.