What Does Sam Darnold’s Future With USC Football Hold?

USC quarterback Sam Darnold during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy)
USC quarterback Sam Darnold during practice at Howard Jones Field. (Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy) /

With Max Browne named USC football’s starting quarterback, what does that mean for Sam Darnold’s future with the Trojans?

Darnold’s rapid rise prompted Clay Helton to extend the quarterback competition much longer than expected, but with the starting job going Browne’s way, the redshirt freshman faces a potentially lengthy wait for his chance to shine.

One thing is certain, Helton is not interested in splitting time between his quarterbacks.

The head coach said on Friday that his experience as quarterbacks coach in 2013, when Cody Kessler and Max Wittek were switched out for the first half and second half of the Trojans first two games, taught him to avoid such indecision.

“To go back and forth, it’s really, really hard to get in a rhythm,” Helton said “I’m going to name one and allow that guy to be the guy and let him move our football team.”

Helton didn’t rule out the idea of using packages for specific players, an option which might just suit Darnold’s skill set as a mobile option at the goal line or in short yardage situations.

In fact, the Trojans could take a page out of Florida’s playbook, using Darnold much like the Gators did Tim Tebow while Chris Leak served as the starter in 2016.

After naming the starter, Helton opened the door wide open for the young QB to be utilized in special ways this season.

“The performance by Sam Darnold at such a young age in both spring and fall camps has made us very confident as a staff that Sam could enter any game and our offense would not miss a beat,” Helton said. “Though we will not rotate quarterbacks, we do envision using Sam’s unique athletic skill set for special situations throughout games this season.”

Aside from the occasional cameo, however, Darnold’s chances to see the field in live situations are limited.

“I never want a guy to be looking over his back all the time, like ‘oh this series if I don’t do good, I’m out.’ I think that puts undue stress on the kid,” said Helton.

Now that the quarterback is settled, Helton intends to stick with him unless an extended period of poor play forces his hand.

“There’s two reasons that a quarterback gets pulled. One, by injury. Two, a lack of production over a period of time,” Helton explained.

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It’s far from the best scenario for Darnold, but his future could be sitting back and waiting on-call like Browne did over the past two seasons under Kessler.

A rough start to the season for Browne, or an unfortunate injury, could still have Darnold take the field as USC’s starter this season.

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If, however, Browne maintains his starting place for the entire season, the length of Darnold’s wait will depend on Browne’s NFL ambitions, since Helton has not indicated any intention to reopen the quarterback competition after this year.

The good news for USC is that Darnold has stated unequivocally that he has no interest in transferring.

“I have no desire to leave USC, this is the place for me,” Darnold said after the decision was announced.

That means the Trojans can expect him to stick it out until Browne’s eventual departure.

Should Browne leave for the NFL after one season, Darnold would have a fairly open route to the starting job in 2017, with Matt Fink hoping to replicate the surprising challenge of this offseason.

Should Browne opt to stay for his final season of eligibility, Matt Corrall could be added to that competition as a freshman in 2018, but Darnold would remain the favorite to be Browne’s successor.