USC Football: Criteria set for Spring Camp quarterback battle

Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy
Alicia de Artola/Reign of Troy /

As USC Football’s 2018 quarterback battle kicks off, Matt Fink and Jack Sears have been given simple instructions: Make good decisions and move the ball.

What factors will determine USC Football’s next starting quarterback? Offensive coordinator Tee Martin is keeping it simple at the start of Spring Camp.

“Make good decisions and move the ball,” Martin said of his criteria for picking a starting QB.

That decision won’t come until well into the fall. Head coach Clay Helton confirmed they’ll wait until all 40 practices of Spring and Fall Camp are complete before setting a depth chart, which means Matt Fink and Jack Sears (and JT Daniels) have a long way to go before either will find out if they’ve done enough to win the job.

For the time being, it’s all about the two factors: Who makes good decisions and who moves the ball.

Day 1 was a good primer for the coming competition. Neither quarterback threw an interception, displaying good decision-making from the start. Sears had the more spectacular completion, hitting Michael Pittman for a long gainer down the sideline. But Fink had the more consistent play, finding Tyler Vaughns in pockets underneath to keep the ball moving.

Both quarterbacks will also be battling the shadow of Sam Darnold, whose athleticism and improvisational skills make him a Heisman contender and potential No. 1 overall draft pick.

But Martin emphasized to both passers, “You don’t have to be Sam.”

That’s a fair place to start, as it would be impossible to replicate Darnold’s brand of high-wire playmaking. However, the Trojans are looking for the quarterbacks to use their athleticism in similar ways. That’s why they were recruited, because they pair arm talent with mobility.

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“I’m not asking them to run 20 times a game, but I am asking them to know what real live football is,” Helton said. “That’s being able to move in the pocket, keep your eyes downfield, keep the play alive and be successful getting it to your receivers.”

Unfortunately, practice isn’t the best venue for evaluating a quarterback’s ability to extend the play. That may have been a major factor when it came to the battle between the more immobile Max Browne and Darnold in 2016. It’s a different kind of contest between Fink and Sears, both qualifying as dual-threat passers.

With little to separate them right now and the race guaranteed to continue through the fall, the focus is simply on improvement across the board.

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“This whole spring is about Matt being the best player he can be, me being the best player I can be,” Sears said. “That’s all you can control is how good you get.”