We're continuing our series ranking the top offensive triplets in the Pac-12 with USC.
Here are the parameters: We’ve selected a trio of skill position players from each team in the conference.
The rules: Each player comes from a different position group, so the offensive version of this series features a quarterback, a running back and a receiver -- no exceptions. We then ranked each program’s troika against the others in the Pac-12, and we’ll be unveiling each in reverse countdown order.
Note: For teams that haven't selected a starter at the quarterback position, you'll notice we've kept things open-ended with who's competing for the starting job
QB Max Browne
Browne, a redshirt junior, was perhaps the No. 1 QB in his 2013 recruiting class but he was unable to unseat Cody Kessler, so he's been sitting and watching for three seasons. The general feeling always has been that he's fully capable, and his 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame and passing ability suggests he might have a future playing on Sundays. Still, he threw 12 of his 19 career passes last year and has seen no meaningful action. He is an unknown. It's also possible that more mobile redshirt freshman Sam Darnold could notch the upset and win the starting job during preseason camp. Both QBs looked good in spring practices, though most reports gave Browne the edge. Most schools, by the way, would love to have this either/or situation behind center.
RB Justin Davis
Davis and Ronald Jones are 1A and 1B and more than a few folks would rate Jones the 1A. Jones actually led the Trojans with 987 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, while Davis had 902 yards and seven TDs. Jones also averaged 6.5 yards per carry compared with 5.3 for Davis. Both earned honorable mention All-Pac-12 honors. But Davis started the last eight games last year, so it's the coaches establishing the pecking order here.
This is easy. Smith-Schuster was the best receiver in the Pac-12 last year by a wide margin and he earned second-team All-American honors as well as a first-team All-Pac-12 nod. He's a likely preseason All-American. Last year, he led the conference with 103.9 yards receiving per game and hauled in 10 touchdowns. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, he's a physical player with good speed. The Trojans also feel pretty good about his experienced, athletic supporting cast keeping defenses fairly honest with the schemes against Smith-Schuster.
Evaluation: The Trojans feel as good as any conference team about their situations at running back and receiver. The question, obviously, is how much mature production, consistency and leadership they will get behind center. There are good reasons to believe that things at QB should work out fine, starting with the fact that the Trojans have been pretty darn good at QB since, well, 2002. Browne looks like he's ready to lead this offense; if he's not, Darnold ain't too shabby either. Of course, Nick Saban and the Alabama defense will provide a bit of a test on opening day, Sept. 3.