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Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Kessler experienced, but is that enough?

By Garry Paskwietz

With the news that the Trojans received a verbal commitment over the weekend from one of the top quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, there was automatically a lot of message board speculation about the state of the USC depth chart at the position in future years.

There is no doubt that the newest future Trojan -- Ricky Town from Ventura (Calif.) St. Bonaventure -- will one day play into the mix for the signal-caller job, as will Max Browne and Jalen Greene. For the more immediate future, incumbent starter Cody Kessler heads up the position while veteran Max Wittek, with two starts under his belt, has to be considered as well.

Cody Kessler
Cody Kessler has the experience, but new USC coach Steve Sarkisian said all jobs are up for grabs in the spring, including the QB.
What was interesting about some of the discussions were the thoughts on Kessler being in competition for his job now, or even in a potential senior season. Even though Kessler put up solid numbers in his sophomore season while guiding the Trojans through a season full of adversity, there were still plenty of USC fans who made it clear of their desire for Browne to get a shot at the job sooner rather than later.

Without downplaying the potential of Browne -- the No. 2 pocking passing QB in the 2013 class who spent last season as a redshirt -- a quick look at the stats put up by Kessler in 2013 shows that they stand up pretty well against recent USC quarterbacks in their respective sophomore years:

Carson Palmer: 228-415 for 2,914 yards with 16 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.
Matt Leinart: 255-402 for 3,556 yards with 38 touchdowns and 9 picks.
Matt Barkley: 236-377 for 2,791 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 picks.
Kessler: 236-361 for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and 7 picks.

In the vast majority of cases, numbers like those from a redshirt sophomore will usually mean that player is basically guaranteed his spot the following year, but these aren’t normal times at USC. First of all, there is a new coach in Steve Sarkisian, who has made it clear that all position jobs will be open starting in spring ball, including the quarterback spot.

Sarkisian was once a quarterback himself and he has three other former college quarterbacks on his offensive staff, so there is some pretty good knowledge about how to deal with the position. It’s certainly possible that they are playing a party line about competition while knowing that Kessler, at the very least, has a leg up on the others heading into spring based on his starting experience.

Sarkisian will be bringing in an offensive system that brings about some new wrinkles -- mainly an up-tempo, no-huddle style that will require the quarterback to do some different things. It would seem to make sense in that transition period to want an experienced player in that role, so that would seem to benefit Kessler.

For those who wonder if Kessler fits with Sarkisian, it is important to note that Sarkisian at one point recruited Kessler to Washington. In fact, Kessler has said that Sarkisian recruited him harder than any coach and Kessler gave a lot of thought to playing for the Huskies.

The questions on Kessler will often involve his running ability, with the thought that the Sarkisian offense will require a quarterback who can run with the football. This is true to a certain extent but it’s not like it was an overwhelming part of the Washington offense last season. Keith Price ran the ball 82 times for 292 yards for the Huskies while Kessler ran 42 times for 73 yards.

It’s also a bit of a misconception that Sarkisian’s version of the offense will require a true running quarterback. While there may be elements of the read-option in the offense, the quarterback will be required to make the correct throw out of his reads more often than a run. The quarterback will need to make a quick decision, and to move around in the pocket enough to create that time to throw.

It is a bit of an unknown to see how any quarterback will react to a new system, and that includes Kessler. And, no matter what happened last season, you just never know if this is an opportunity for another player such as Browne to take advantage of a true competition. It will be interesting to see how Sarkisian manages this situation during spring ball.