After winning the quarterback battle in the lead up to the start of the season, Cody Kessler struggled at the beginning of the 2013-2014 Trojans campaign, under soon to be fired head coach Lane Kiffin. After Ed Orgeron took over and the Trojans made a strong second half run the culminated in a solid finish, Kessler finished strong and demonstrated the skills that made him a high recruited player. In the Trojans strong second half they won with solid defense, a good running attack and solid game management from Kessler. In the final six games of the regular season Kessler had 8 touchdown passes and one interception. The finished the season on a high note, throwing for 345 yards and four touchdowns in the Trojans impressive bowl victory over Fresno State. Kessler’s solid play coincided with USC’s best football of the season, a stretch where they won six of seven games. A loss to UCLA in the regular season finale was the only defeat the Trojans suffered after the month of October.
While Kessler was leading the Trojans to a comeback season the program was redshirting Max Browne, a highly recruited quarterback touted as USC’s quarterback of the future. Red-shirting Browne made sense, with many around the program speculating that the job would be Browne’s to lose as a true freshman. With former Trojans assistant Steve Sarkisian taking over the head coaching job, the two quarterbacks, along with Jalen Greene, went into spring practice competing for the starting job.
At the conclusion of spring practice Sarkisian indicated that Kessler was still tops on the depth chart following a solid performance. The new coach hedged his bets a bit, stating that Kessler’s starting status is contingent on continued improvement and a solid training camp. Browne is still considered the top contender for the job, with Sarkisian indicating that the redshirt freshman would have another opportunity to earn the starting position this summer.
Kessler is a good game manager but not the type of difference-making athlete at the quarterback position like USC’s Brett Hundley. After the Trojans solid finish last year they’ll enter the new season with big expectations in an increasingly difficult PAC 12 conference. The Southern Division of the PAC 12 is full of up and coming programs, including UCLA under Jim Mora and Arizona State and Arizona under Todd Graham and Rich Rodriquez. With Brett Hundley plying his trade across town, leading a UCLA team that many favor in the conference, is Cody Kessler the answer at quarterback?
Whether he’s the answer or not will depend on how the Trojans replace Marqise Lee and whether or not they can continue the dominant running game they showed in the second half of last season. Lee, who left for the NFL, had an injury filled year in 2013, but when healthy was the type of player that opposing teams had to account for. His absence will put more pressure on key Kessler target Nelson Agholar, who had two touchdown catches in the Trojans bowl victory. Kessler will have the benefit of a full season with Buck Allen at running back. Allen, who battled injuries early in 2013 had a strong second half that coincided with the Trojans strong run of play. In the Trojans last six games Allen had four one-hundred yard rushing games and 12 touchdowns.
So what does the future hold for Max Browne? The highly recruited quarterback indicated he’s no transferring, but he’s looking at another season as a backup. If Kessler succeeds like he did at the end of last season he’ll have an additional year of eligibility remaining beyond next season. If the incumbent starter has a strong 2014 it’s hard to imagine him losing his job to Browne after next season. To add to Browne’s predicament is the presence of Ricky Town, who committed to the Trojans. Town is the top ranked quarterback in the class of 2014, highly touted like Browne.
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BY: Chris M.