On Tuesday, as predicted by just about everyone, coach Steve Sarkisian named Cody Kessler as USC’s starting quarterback.
This news comes as no surprise to anyone who has watched spring ball this year (or read my column last week).
“He’s earned it and he deserves it,” Sarkisian said of Kessler.
Indeed, last season’s starter was visibly better than his chief competitor, redshirt freshman Max Browne. Kessler demonstrated not just a better understanding of a new playbook and an ability to make throws, but also a better innate feel for the game — adjusting to pressure, buying himself time in the pocket, quick decision making — obvious qualities that may not be as flashy as a cannon arm, but are equally important.
“Cody is very decisive right now,” Sarkisian said. “He knows where he’s going with the football. He’s got a great deal of confidence.”
This decision, Sarkisian stressed, reflects their play this spring and this spring alone. Kessler would start “if there was a game on Saturday.”
Here’s the thing though. There’s not a game on Saturday. Or the next Saturday or any Saturday after that for more than four months. Even the spring “game” this Saturday is going to be more practice-like than anything else, as the Trojans simply don’t have the numbers to complete a full scrimmage.
So Cody Kessler is the starter for now, and deservedly so, as Sarkisian said. He will be the singular voice leading the Trojans throughout summer workouts — a decidedly better situation than last year. But that does not at all guarantee that Kessler will start under center on Aug. 30 against Fresno State.
“When fall camp rolls around, [Max] is gonna come and swing away at [Cody] again and give Cody his best shot,” Sarkisian said. “And Cody will either respond like he’s done this spring, and continue to get better, or Max will pass him. That’s the beauty of being at USC and the beauty of competition.”
It’s not as though Browne played poorly this spring, by any stretch. Kessler simply played better than him, and that was plain for all to see.
“Cody and Max both know this competition is gonna wage on,” Sarkisian said. “Max isn’t just gonna go away, he’s gonna keep competing and keep working.”
Last year, both Kessler and former quarterback Max Wittek admitted to pressing too much as their battle to claim the starting spot dragged on two full games into the season — and after seeing the progress of Kessler throughout 2013, that is plenty obvious. This time around, Kessler was informed of his good news before practice on Tuesday. And according to Sark he responded with his best practice of the spring, probably due in part to having that weight lifted from his shoulders.
It is a good thing for USC that a starter, any starter, has been named. It gives the team a sense of direction and definitive leadership heading into the summer, when they are prohibited from interacting with coaches on the field.
Max Browne has all the tools. He will push Kessler in the fall, and more importantly, he will be given his fair shot to do so. But for now, Cody Kessler was the obvious choice. And it’s a good thing Sarkisian made it.
Nick Burton is a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Any Given Saturday,” runs Thursdays.