It’s not crazy to expect JT Daniels to be USC Football’s starting quarterback

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

Could JT Daniels really win USC Football’s starting quarterback job this fall? Predicting his rise to the top of the depth chart isn’t crazy.

Under normal circumstances, you’d expect the USC Football quarterback battle to break into two main camps: Team Fink and Team Sears.

After all, Matt Fink and Jack Sears were the ones competing for the starting job this spring.

Instead, with spring practices complete, the camps seem to have split along different lines: Team JT and Team Quarterbacks Who Have Taken a Snap at College Level.

There’s a fascinating and frustrating conversation to be had over the prospects of incoming freshman JT Daniels. Does he really have a chance to be USC’s starting quarterback?

Daniels isn’t just a freshman. He’s a freshman who should be a high school senior this fall. He’s graduating from Mater Dei a year ahead of schedule. And he has never suited up for a college practice, never thrown a ball against college opposition and has just about three weeks to show enough command of the offense during Fall Camp to win the job in the first place.

Is it fair to expect him to do just that?

It may not be fair. But it’s far from unrealistic.

There are two sides to projecting Daniels as a true freshman starter at quarterback for the Trojans. One of them has to do with Daniels himself. And the other has to do with the competition as a whole.

Daniels is a five-star prospect coming out of high school, ranking 16th nationally and second at his position. He was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior. If that sounds familiar it should. That’s a feat Matt Barkley achieved at Mater Dei before winning the starting job at USC as a true freshman.

Barkley had the advantage of going through Spring Camp before pulling ahead of Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain while Daniels will have a much shorter period to impress. In that sense, the level of difficulty is certainly raised. All the same, the comparison seems apt, especially given what we know about the competition then and now.

It would be one thing if Fink and Sears were at a higher level than Corp and Mustain at the same point in the competition, but they’re not. Both had an up-and-down spring, but signs of potential were too often matched by red flag days.

The deficiencies of the two quarterbacks who participated in spring ball have only strengthened the argument for USC to throw caution to the wind and ride any early growing pains from Daniels.

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Make no mistake, it would be a risky move to pick the youngest QB of the bunch, and that’s first assuming that he takes to USC’s offense like a duck to water in the opening weeks of camp. The assumption hangs on Daniels’ apparent football IQ and ability to absorb a playbook. If those skills are as advertised, it’s not a huge stretch.

Still, it’s important to stress that Daniels is no savior for USC. Not yet anyways. The fact that he’s in this conversation at all is a problem, one that could wreck any lofty goals for the 2018 campaign. As a true freshman, it would be a truly impressive feat for him to perform well enough to get the Trojans to a repeat Pac-12 Championship. But right now, there’s not enough evidence that Fink or Sears would get them there anyways.

Fink could turn out to be a Cody Kessler-esque game manager, with wheels to make him even more dangerous, but he can’t be that game manager if he’s throwing interceptions and dropping snaps the way he was prone to during Spring Camp.

As for Sears, the flashes of his ability were certainly bright, but his talent is still too raw, too erratic. He may yet develop into a fully-capable quarterback, but it feels a year too soon for him.

USC finds themselves in an unfortunate situation where there are more reasons to not pick one of their three options than reasons to pick either of them. If it remains that way, it becomes easier and easier to reach the conclusion: Why not Daniels?

He’s been well-coached for years. He’s had the playbook for months. He’s already watching film. All that’s left is for him to suit up and go for it.

If the Trojans may only have three years with him anyways, why not get the Daniels era started now? Other programs have had success with freshmen at the helm and there’s plenty of talent across the offense to prop up an inexperienced passer.

All of this is speculation, of course. Come August, Daniels, Fink and Sears will each have the chance to prove their worth. One of them will win the job on merit, not offseason conjecture. Let whoever earns the palm bear it.