USC’s Sam Darnold is college football’s most talked about quarterback and the top NFL Draft prospect going into 2017. Can he answer the bell?
After the 2016 USC football team lost to both Alabama and Stanford, and quarterback Max Browne did not live up to the hype of being the top ranked quarterback recruit in 2013, Sam Darnold got his first start in Week 4 against Utah.
While the Trojans ended up losing that game, it was clear they had the type of quarterback who could make something out of nothing and sustain drives.
Darnold ended the season going 9-1 as the starter, and finishing with 3,086 passing yards, 31 touchdowns, and a 67.2 percent completion percentage.
However, after a great season, many players slump or regress in the face of lofty expectations.
USC’s Matt Barkley and Cody Kessler are good examples. Barkely threw for 3, 528 yards, a record 39 touchdowns, and a 69.8 percent completion percentage as a junior in 2011. Kessler put up nearly identical numbers in 2014, with 3,826 yards, 39 touchdowns, and a 69.7 percent completion rate.
Due to their outstanding seasons, both were considered candidates for the Heisman Trophy and the Trojans were expected to compete for championships the following years.
Neither came close to matching expectations.
Barkley returned for his senior season when he could have been a top pick in the NFL Draft and won just seven games with a 63.6 percent completion rate. He ended his career having never beaten Stanford.
Kessler won eight games as a senior and threw for 29 touchdowns, while completing 66.8 percent of his passes.
Neither was bad statistically, but they regressed and did not play well in marquee matchups.
With these things having happened in the recent past, some think that Darnold will run into the same sort of problems. Here are three reasons why we can be confident he will not only be as good as he was in 2016, but even better…
1. Darnold is a better player than both Barkley and Kessler.
While both Barkley and Kessler were talented, they did not have the skill set Darnold does. Darnold is bigger, faster, stronger and more elusive in the pocket by a considerable margin. He also has better arm strength and does not zero in one target as Barkley and Kessler tended to do.
Keep in mind also that Darnold fits the hybrid offense USC is trying to run perfectly, which was not the case with Barkley or Kessler.
2. USC’s defense will give Darnold more opportunities.
USC did not have an attacking style defense in 2012 or 2015, leading to increased pressure on Barkley and Kessler. They felt they had to score every drive.
MUST READ: USC’s Defense Should Only Get Better in 2017
This year, the Trojans return most of its defensive starters and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, who runs an aggressive multiple defense. Pendergast’s defenses have been known to get better in Year 2, and with the amount of talent returning, there is reason to believe that trend won’t continue.
3. Darnold distributes to more weapons.
USC has a vast number of receivers, running backs, and tight ends that were not at Barkley and Kessler’s disposal under sanctions. Because Darnold doesn’t have a tendency to look for one player, this allows him to keep defenses on their heels and USC marching down the field consistently.
Overall, look for Darnold to break some records and lead USC to at least the Pac-12 Championship Game this year. There will be no sophomore slump.