Sam Darnold’s ceiling is higher than any USC Football quarterback in recent memory, but is he a sure-thing for the Trojans in 2017?
There are more than a few reasons to be excited about USC Football’s 2017 season, with quarterback Sam Darnold topping the list.
Darnold’s exceptional play in 2016 left Trojan fans with their mouths watering. Can he keep them watering though?
This summer, we’ll be taking a best-case, worst-case look at each position, starting with the quarterback:
Darnold is as good as everyone thinks he is. Or even better.
The scariest part of Darnold’s 2016 season –for opposing defenses at least– is what he was able to accomplish despite being a redshirt freshman. If he was able to carve up oppositions as a first year starter, what could he do with some experience under his belt?
That’s why so many are pegging Darnold as a Heisman contender in 2017 and even more are projecting him as the No. 1 overall pick for next year’s NFL Draft.
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Since he didn’t start until the fourth game of the 2016 season, it stands to reason Darnold will improve upon the 3,086 passing yards and 33 total touchdowns he accounted for in Year 1.
Greater command of the offensive scheme should result in a step up for the gifted passer, including a reduction on the nine interceptions he threw as a freshman.
More trust from the coaching staff should open things up even further for the offense as a whole, while Darnold’s improvisational ability will remain an X-factor.
Put simply, if Darnold even approaches the level college football pundits, fans and his coaches believe he can reach, then USC’s offense could be one of their best this century.
An elite-level quarterback like Darnold, paired with a squadron of talented wide receivers and as stacked a running back group as the Trojans have had this century, could be a sight to behold.
A best-case scenario for Darnold should add plenty of silverware to USC’s trophy cabinet.
Darnold’s risks outweigh his benefits and turnovers become his Achilles heel.
The simplest way to imagine USC’s 2017 season falling apart is a season-ending injury to an elite-level Darnold. And it’s really not that hard to imagine. Just look across the city at UCLA, whose 2016 was a disaster in which a shaky offensive line put phenom QB Josh Rosen in the cross-hairs and injury took him out of the game.
Granted, the Bruins had plenty more problems than just losing their quarterback, but they’re a good example of the free fall that can occur when a team loses their talisman.
Of course, there’s another possibility here. What if Darnold isn’t as good as everything thinks he is?
That’s not to say that Darnold may turn out to be a bad quarterback as a redshirt sophomore. In fact, a worst-case scenario would still see him among the top four passers in the Pac-12.
However, turnovers could spell his, and USC’s, demise.
In 2016, Darnold tossed nine interceptions, a perfectly acceptable total for a redshirt freshman. But the more bold Darnold becomes, the more that total could rise.
He took plenty of chances last year — his highlight reel is full of “how did he do that?” moments which could have easily ended in disaster with more alert defensive backs, less reliable play from receivers or a less fortuitous bounce of the ball.
On top of that, Darnold was tagged with nine fumbles last year and lost five of them. The result of the Utah game –which kept the Trojans out of the Pac-12 title game– can be tied to the quarterbacks lack of care with the football in his first start.
For comparison, Matt Barkley’s stellar 2011 season was followed by a much more trying 2012 campaign featuring 15 interceptions, his highest season total as a Trojan.
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Darnold’s legend may have grown beyond his actual capabilities thanks to his Rose Bowl heroics, but there’s good news for USC fans — it’s unlikely his freshman campaign was a complete mirage.
There’s no denying that Darnold is special. Even if he doesn’t live up to lofty expectations that now sit on his shoulders, he’s still capable of leading USC to the Pac-12 title game and beyond.
For every interception he throws, he’ll make an unbelievable play to save the day. That’s just the kind of quarterback he is.
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On a scale of one to 10, with one being “Darnold, the turnover-machine” and 10 being “Darnold, the greatest quarterback in the history of college football,” it’s safe to say the Trojan QB will finish on the more positive side of things.