Carson Palmer to be honored Saturday

Carson Palmer throws a pass in a game for the Trojans.
Carson Palmer throws the ball during a 2002 game. In his Heisman winning season, Palmer threw for 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was selected No. 1 overall in the 2003 NFL Draft. (Image courtesy of USC Athletics)

USC legend and former quarterback Carson Palmer, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in January, will be honored Saturday at the Coliseum during the Trojans’ upcoming game against Utah. 

The 6-5, 235-pound quarterback struggled during the first three seasons of his collegiate career, but exploded his senior year, winning the 2002 Heisman Trophy on the back of an 11-2 record and setting USC up for a decade of prominence. 

“I’m most excited to run out of the tunnel,” said Palmer on USC’s radio show “Trojans Live.” “I’m excited to be honored at halftime, but I’m really excited to lead the team out of the tunnel.”

Palmer will look to recapture some of the excitement from the good old days, when he threw 3,639 yards and 32 touchdowns in his Heisman-winning season. He went on to win MVP in USC’s 2003 Orange Bowl victory over Iowa, giving the Trojans a No. 4 ranking — their highest finish in the polls since 1979. 

Some of Palmer’s success can be attributed to a coaching change at the turn of the century. Athletic Director Mike Garrett decided Head Coach Paul Hackett’s 19-18 record over two seasons wasn’t cutting it, choosing to instate Pete Carroll for the 2001 season, who went on to coach the Trojans until 2009. 

“This was such a great group for Pete to come into,” Palmer said. “He was coming into a team that wasn’t really good but had some great leadership … That leadership bought in to all of Pete’s fun, corny but positive stuff. You gotta have that leadership buy into that style.”

Palmer was able to fully flourish under Carroll his senior year after having a tough start in  collegiate football. 

As a freshman in 1999, Palmer started the final five games of the season, throwing for 1,755 passing yards and seven touchdowns, but sky-high expectations fell to the floor when Palmer suffered a season-ending collarbone injury early sophomore year. He redshirted his sophomore season in 2000, throwing more interceptions (18) than touchdowns (16) in the season. Chances of Palmer reaching his full potential looked bleak after an unmemorable junior season in 2001, where he threw for 13 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. 

Enter offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Chow, who was brought in with Carroll’s staff in 2001, coached the Trojans’ offense until 2004. With Chow’s guidance, Palmer began to see the whole field and read defenses at a higher level, raising his and the team’s level of play. 

Chow was so instrumental in Palmer’s dominant 2002 season some even suggested the NFL team that drafts Palmer should add Chow to its coaching staff. 

Palmer is no stranger to coaching changes at the collegiate level. When Hackett was ousted and Carroll was brought in, Palmer had to change the way he looked at football. 

Fast forward almost 20 years later, the Trojans find themselves in a similar situation — Clay Helton gone and interim Head Coach Donte Williams left to clean up the scraps. It can be especially difficult for a young quarterback such as junior Kedon Slovis, since it’s only been two seasons with new offensive coordinator Graham Harrell. 

“It’s obviously tough because there is so much change, change of terminology, change of the program and really everything,” Palmer said. “But there is something exciting and refreshing about it, that change is sometimes good. It’s a whole new system to learn and more things to experience from a quarterback’s perspective, especially.”

Palmer got off to a slow start his senior year under Carroll, beginning the 2002 season with a 3-2 record before going on a blistering seven-game win streak to reach the 2003 Orange Bowl. Similarly, this season’s USC team finds itself with a 3-2 record, a new coach at the reins and the entire fanbase looking for some signs of positive change. 

Slovis and his squad will look to kick off a Palmer-esque win streak with the newly-inducted College Football Hall of Famer in attendance Saturday as they take on the Utes at 5 p.m.