USC football’s Mount Rushmore of legendary Trojan quarterbacks

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Joe Robbins/Getty Images /
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Sam Darnold evades a Penn State defender in the Rose Bowl. (Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
Sam Darnold evades a Penn State defender in the Rose Bowl. (Leon Bennett/Getty Images) /

Sam Darnold

Sam Darnold’s place in USC lore will be debated and likely reevaluated as the years go by. Maybe it’s a case of recency bias that has him in the Mount Rushmore of Trojan Quarterbacks. But on pure playmaking ability from the quarterback position, it’s tough to remember or imagine any better.

Darnold’s meteoric rise was a bit unexpected. He was second fiddle to Ricky Town in USC’s recruiting class of 2015, but it quickly became apparent that there was something more to his game. He challenged veteran backup Max Browne for the starting job in 2016 and changed the trajectory of that season when he was elevated to the top of the depth chart in Week 4.

From the word go, Darnold had that special something that separates the great from the good. Even though he lost his first start against Utah, he added a clear spark to the offense with his backyard-football style.

The Trojans went on to win nine straight games to finish the year, with Darnold throwing 29 touchdowns, racking up 3,086 yards, and posting a passer rating that ranked ninth nationally.

The numbers were fantastic but the moments were even better. And none were bigger than his fourth-quarter heroics against Penn State in the Rose Bowl. He led USC back from a 14-point deficit, tying the game on a 27-yard touchdown pass improvised between QB and receiver and delivered with accuracy, touch, and arc that can only be described as beautiful.

Kirk Herbstreit of ESPN put it best: “On the football field, he is in a different galaxy.”

Darnold’s instinctive play would lead USC to their first conference title in nearly a decade in 2017 while he continued to display his magic in narrow wins over Texas and Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Are Rodney Peete, Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart, and Sam Darnold worthy of your Mount Rushmore of USC quarterbacks? Or do other passers deserve to make the cut? Sound off!

Next. 10 Best USC QBs Ever