By steadily progressing since early struggles in 2013, USC quarterback Cody Kessler has suddenly emerged as one of the nation’s best passers this year.
Quite frankly, the days of calling him simply a game manager are long gone. Kessler is starting to enter uncharted territory among USC quarterbacks.
He’s the only quarterback in the country with more than 300 pass attempts and three or fewer interceptions, and only Heisman Trophy favorite Marcus Mariota has a better passer rating in the Pac-12.
Kessler has come into his own this year, putting together what could wind up being the best statistical season in USC history.
With two regular season games and a bowl game remaining, Kessler stands in good position to break numerous single-season school records to go with the single-game touchdown record that he set last month against Colorado.
His 2,919 passing yards is only 41 yards behind Carson Palmer’s 10-game pace in 2002, the year he won the Heisman Trophy and set USC’s school record for passing yards in a season with 3,942.
Kessler would need to average 341 yards over his final three games to break it, which is on par with the 345 yards that he’s averaged over his last three outings.
But for the redshirt junior out of Bakersfield, it’s not the yardage that has been the most impressive this season, but the efficiency at which Kessler operates. He’s incredibly protective of the football, and is highly accurate both in the pocket and when on the run to evade pressure.
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The result would be a school-record passer rating if he didn’t attempt pass for the remainder of the season, at 169.0. That’s more than five whole points ahead of the record Mark Sanchez set back in 2008.
And yet much like Sanchez, Kessler has put together a season that has widely been incognito and out of the Heisman Trophy discussion.
Quite a bit more fairly one could add, as the bulk of his numbers have come against defenses highly susceptible to the pass.
In games against teams currently with winning records, Kessler’s passer rating is just 138.7 and the Trojans are 2-3. That’s not good enough.
Back in 2008, Sanchez’s passer rating against such teams was 163.1, good for fourth in the nation. The three guys ahead of him? The top three in the Heisman voting that year: Sam Bradford, Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy.
While it would take an insane final two games and an immensely improbable head-to-head romp over Mariota and the Oregon Ducks in the Pac-12 championship game to become a serious Heisman contender, Kessler can make a national statement in late November to prove that his numbers carry weight.
The Trojans close out the season in primetime against not only their two biggest rivals, but their two toughest opponents of the season: UCLA and Notre Dame.
If Kessler is hands down the best player on the field in those two games, it’ll be hard to say he wouldn’t have completed the best season of any USC quarterback in school history when you consider everything from his surrounding talent, play calling and the defense’s impact on the team’s record.
Big title. Tall task. But he keeps doing everything asked of him and just a little more.
Getting into the record book
Kessler is on pace to break…
- Passer rating: 164.6 by Mark Sanchez in 2008
- Completion percentage: 69.1 percent by Matt Barkley in 2011
- Completions: 309 by Carson Palmer in 2002
- Lowest rate of interceptions: 1.34 percent by Rob Johnson in 1993
Kessler is threatening…
- Passing yards: 3,942 yards by Carson Palmer in 2002
- Touchdown passes: 39 by Matt Barkley in 2011 (Pac-12 Record)
- Most 300-yard passing games: 7 by Carson Palmer in 2002
- Most consecutive 300-yard passing games: 3 by Carson Palmer in 2002, Matt Leinart in 2005
Where Kessler stands through 10 games
Stats sorted by passing efficiency.* Game logs not available from 1993. Stats compiled through game stories in LA Times archives.