Over the past several months, a debate has raged amongst USC football fans regarding whether the program would be better off with JT Daniels or Kedon Slovis as the team’s starting quarterback.
Supporters of Daniels cite his success at Georgia as clear-cut evidence that he is superior to Slovis, while those who favor the current Trojan starter point to his superiority to Daniels in his freshman season.
So, what is the answer? Well, it doesn’t make for outstanding debate, but the answer is neither.
Let’s take a look at why.
There shouldn't be a debate between Kedon Slovis and JT Daniels
In the spring of 2018, the New York Jets drafted Sam Darnold, ending a two-year run in which he elevated the Trojans back to national relevancy. Despite failing to bring USC to its first College Football Playoff appearance, the San Clemente product provided the blueprint for quarterback success on a Clay Helton team that struggles to protect its QB.
Losing Darnold was a blow, but at the time, Trojan fans rejoiced in the fact that Mater Dei star JT Daniels left high school early to take over behind center.
However, it was instantly apparent the number of deficiencies Darnold masked for the USC offense. Daniels was constantly under assault behind an offensive line that possessed the physicality of a team in the Big Sky conference rather than a College Football Playoff contender. To make matters worse, the freshman lacked in stature and possessed significantly less mobility than his predecessor, making it nearly impossible for him to function in Tee Martin’s offense.
After a 5-7 season, Helton ultimately brought in Graham Harrell (we all know the Kliff Kingsbury saga by now) to shift the Trojans to an Air Raid-based offense. They intended for the system to resolve USC’s physicality issues, as opposing defenses would be more spread out, and the ball would come out quicker.
Yet, in the first half of Harrel’s debut against Fresno State, protection issues, in conjunction with Daniels’ lack of mobility, led to the sophomore tearing his ACL while being sacked.
The following week against Stanford, Slovis displayed why he was the Trojans’ backup.
The three-star prospect carved the Stanford secondary up for 377 yards and three touchdowns while completing two passes that Daniels hadn’t shown the ability to make (6:30 and 9:58).
Throughout the season, Slovis had his ups and downs but proved that he was right with UNC’s Sam Howell for best freshman quarterback in the country. Still, USC's opponents battered the slightly built quarterback, knocking him out of multiple games due to porous pass-blocking. This came to a head in the Holiday Bowl against Iowa, as first-round pick AJ Epenesa left fellow first-round pick Austin Jackson in the dust to sack and injure Slovis’ throwing elbow.
Since that play, Slovis’ arm strength has not looked the same. In 2020, he lacked the ability to drive the ball downfield outside of a few late-game completions (such as the pass to Drake London to beat ASU).
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, Daniels took over as Georgia’s starting quarterback and made back shoulder throws left and right on his new team.
Naturally, those who had faith in Daniels claim he was always better than Slovis and would have been much better for USC if they had convinced him to stick around. But the fact of the matter is it wouldn’t have mattered which quarterback was behind center for the Trojans this season.
Yes, Daniels played better than Slovis a year ago, but he threw from a significantly cleaner pocket and had a running game that could shoulder the offensive load from time to time. At USC, he wouldn’t have had either.
The reality is that Slovis and Daniels are similar quarterbacks in their builds, mobility, and now arm strength after Slovis’ injury. Neither is physically imposing, which makes them susceptible to being injured. Slovis is faster and displays better pocket mobility and awareness, but not in a way that makes him a consistent threat to the defense like Darnold or other top quarterback prospects (Lawrence, Wilson, Fields, etc.).
In fact, both are more like Matt Barkley than Darnold. They operate best throwing from the pocket and are extremely impressive given time to throw, but neither possess the ability to elevate a team with glaring deficiencies.
Another quarterback on USC's roster, true freshman Jaxson Dart, flashed glimpses of hailing from the Darnold mold this spring but, like Darnold, should spend his first year with the program as a backup before potentially taking the reins in 2022.
For now, Trojan fans should enjoy watching the high level of quarterback play Kedon Slovis brings to the field every Saturday rather than worrying about Daniels, who chose to play elsewhere, or what Dart (or Miller Moss) can bring to the table in the future. We need to remember what they say about the grass on the other side and focus on the program's true issues rather than quarreling over an area of the team that is consistently above average to elite.