The words “Southern California” and “national champions” have long been paired together. The Trojans are among the top 10 winningest teams in college football history. The impressive win count has been spurred by a long line of elite quarterbacks. The legacies of Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley will forever be remembered in USC and college football history.
Redshirt senior quarterback Cody Kessler is the latest play caller with a chance to lead the Trojans back to the national championship game. He enters the 2015 season on the heels of a breakout junior campaign in which he completed nearly 70 percent of his passes, setting a school record. His 39 touchdown passes tied Barkley’s 2011 record, and his 3,826 yard total was just shy of Palmer’s 2002 record.
“He has a chip on his shoulder, and I expect him to have another outstanding season,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said. “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.”
Kessler has received some preseason Heisman buzz, and the Trojans are again ranked in the preseason top 10, but this scenario seems all too familiar. Barkley and the 2012 Trojans were the preseason No. 1 only to finish the season 7-6.
The 2015 Trojans, while still highly praised, do not enter the season with the same hype as the 2012 team. Kessler and the Trojans are still somewhat of an underdog with a lot left to prove. Though last season ended with a lot of promise, it was far from perfect.
The Trojans suffered their first loss at the hands of unranked Boston College and went on to lose to Arizona State, Utah and UCLA and had less than impressive wins over Arizona and Cal. Still, the Trojans’ 9-4 record will likely be a thing of the past.
Despite his record-breaking 2014 numbers, Kessler was never the best quarterback in the Pac-12, or even the most-talked about player on the team. UCLA’s Brett Hundley and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota were the dominant quarterbacks in the conference, and rightfully so. Mariota went on to win the Heisman trophy and Hundley handed USC a 38-20 loss.
NFL-bound wide receiver Nelson Agholor received a lot of buzz in 2014, as did breakout stars wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, cornerback/wide receiver Adoree’ Jackson and outside linebacker Su’a Cravens. Despite his success, Kessler seemed to always fly under the radar. The upcoming season should prove to be a different story.
Hundley and Mariota have both turned pro, leaving the Pac-12 wide open. USC will play both Oregon and UCLA in 2015 and has a chance to end a three-year losing streak to the Bruins. Kessler will be without Agholor, but Smith, Jackson and Cravens will all return and will be joined by one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Kessler and the Trojans have a lot to prove, as does head coach Steve Sarkisian, who is looking to improve upon his 9-4 record. But that seems to be the difference between the 2012 Trojans and the 2015 Trojans. The current team has a chip on its shoulder and has disappointing losses to avenge and more to prove. The Pac-12 is Kessler’s to win.
Taking the Pac-12 is far from an easy task, as emerging young quarterbacks Jared Goff and Anu Solomon look to rival Kessler for the top spot in the conference. However, Kessler’s experience as a three year starter gives him an edge over the newcomers.
“It’s always an advantage to have a senior quarterback leading your team,” Sarkisian said. “Nobody ever has had the kind of season Cody had last year and went as unnoticed as he did, but that serves as a great reminder for him this season.”