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Should USC Football’s NFL QB history count against Sam Darnold?

Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) celebrates on the podium after defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 2, 2017; Pasadena, CA, USA; USC Trojans quarterback Sam Darnold (14) celebrates on the podium after defeating the Penn State Nittany Lions in the 2017 Rose Bowl game at Rose Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Daily News tried to bring USC Football’s quarterback history in the NFL into the “Suck for Sam Darnold” debate on Sunday. That’s a fruitless endeavor.

As the 2017 NFL season gets closer, it’s become more and more clear that teams like the New York Jets are in full-blown tank mode, hoping to cash in on one of the many talented quarterbacks expected to be available at the top of the 2018 NFL Draft.

The most promising of those tank-worthy quarterbacks happens to be Sam Darnold. But the New York Daily News has a concern about that.

“Suck For Sam comes with a warning for Jets fans: USC quarterbacks in the NFL have generally sucked,” writes Gary Myers.

Is that a fair assessment of USC’s history of sending quarterbacks to the NFL? Not in the slightest.

For one thing, the Trojans do a better job than anyone putting talent into the pros. That applies at the quarterback position.

USC’s built-in recruiting advantages and history of employing stellar recruiters usually result in top QB talent picking the Trojans. Then, USC puts those quarterbacks in a position to succeed thanks to the talent around them.

That doesn’t always lead to runaway success for the quarterback in college, but it hardly ever leads to outright failure. If a quarterback at USC is good enough to win the starting job over two or three other highly-touted recruits, then chances are he’s good enough to put USC in a bowl game at a minimum.

How do we know this? Since the turn of the century, the Trojans have dipped below .500 once. The dubious distinction belongs to Paul Hackett’s final team in 2000. Since then, USC has had exactly one six-win season and one seven-win season. The rest have exceeded that record. Mind you, that’s while enduring some of the harshest sanctions in the history of the NCAA, including a two-year bowl ban and a reduction of 30 scholarships over three years.

So USC quarterbacks tend to have two things going for them at draft time. They possessed the kind of physical potential which had them highly-rated in high school, making them at least someone attractive in NFL terms. They were good enough to win a QB competition at USC. And they won games at a high profile program in college.

Is it any wonder that USC has had seven quarterbacks drafted this century –a mark matched only by LSU. Those seven picks included three first-round selections –another mark matched only by Cal and Florida State.

Maybe USC QBs do suck in the NFL. But you know who else sucks? The vast majority of NFL quarterbacks.

But USC’s penchant for putting quarterbacks in the NFL doesn’t have any control over where those QBs go from there. That’s on the player and the team that drafts them.

Judging Darnold’s prospects based on the performance of Carson Palmer, Mark Sanchez or Matt Leinart is a fruitless exercise. Just like Tom Brady’s success in the NFL had absolutely no bearing on Chad Henne’s pro fate.

Maybe USC QBs do suck in the NFL. But you know who else sucks? The vast majority of NFL quarterbacks.

From 2000 to 2015, there were 41 quarterbacks drafted in the first round. Of those, just 16 have made the Pro Bowl at least once. Palmer is among those.

CHECK OUT: Ranking the 10 Best USC Quarterbacks of All-Time

Pro Bowls are an imperfect measure of success, but they’re at least a sign of established and commendable play in the pros. USC hit on one of their three first-rounders this century. That falls right in line with the 39 percent rate of success among all first-rounders.

And if you look at all QBs drafted between 2000 and 2015, only 29 out of 198 can claim a Pro Bowl appearance. That’s just 14 percent. With two Pro Bowlers in that span –Palmer and seventh-rounder Matt Cassel– the Trojans again sit right around 30 percent on QB hits.

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That’s proof that Trojan quarterbacks are no more likely to fail in the NFL than any other passer that comes through the draft. USC has just done a particularly good job of targeting pro-style quarterbacks in recruiting and then developing them well enough for them to earn a place on NFL draft boards.

When it comes to Darnold, the fact that he was a four-star recruit, the fact that he earned the starting job and the fact that he won football games at USC is a starting point for NFL attention. But he’s considered a potential No. 1 overall pick because of his arm, his accuracy, his size and his instinctive playmaking ability.

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If he ends up with the Jets, those things will govern his NFL performance, not irrelevant history relating back to the NFL careers of Trojan quarterbacks of the past.

So for Jets fans out there, there’s no warning needed. Except for maybe the one about poorly managed franchises putting all their eggs in the QB savior basket.

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