SportsUSC

Trojans will stick with Cody Kessler as starting quarterback

SportsUSCSteve SarkisianFootballUSC TrojansCarson PalmerLane Kiffin

In 2013, USC quarterback Cody Kessler endured a spring, summer and early fall of uncertainty, never knowing exactly where he stood on the Trojans' depth chart.

That won't be a problem moving forward.

First-year Coach Steve Sarkisian announced Tuesday that Kessler was the Trojans' starting quarterback, ending what was generously labeled a competition with redshirt freshman Max Browne during spring practice.

"We can go out and win a lot of football games with Cody Kessler as our quarterback," Sarkisian said.

USC won 10 games last season with Kessler as the starter, a designation that then-coach Lane Kiffin did not officially bestow until the third game.

Kessler passed for 20 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. The Bakersfield native played well in the Trojans' upset of Stanford and finished the season with four touchdown passes in a 45-20 victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

USC opens the 2014 season against Fresno State on Aug. 30 at the Coliseum.

The confidence gained last season — and Max Wittek's decision to transfer — clearly enabled Kessler to play without anxiety this spring.

"I went in knowing that I have a year of experience and that I know what it takes in big games to win and what it takes to be successful," said Kessler, a fourth-year junior.

Kessler's experience and skill set enabled him to quickly adapt to the fast-paced, no-huddle offense that Sarkisian has installed this spring.

"He can throw the deep ball extremely well and he has enough athleticism to buy himself some time to create some plays down the field," said Sarkisian who also praised Kessler's decisiveness in the pocket and his leadership.

In 2010, Kessler was on the verge of making a commitment to play for Sarkisian at Washington before USC swooped in and offered a scholarship. He enrolled at USC in January 2011.

Last month, Kessler told reporters he was not only competing against Browne and freshman Jalen Greene, but also against top quarterbacks such as UCLA's Brett Hundley and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of Florida State.

With three workouts remaining this spring — including Saturday's finale at the Coliseum — Sarkisian summoned Kessler to his office on Tuesday and informed him he was the starter.

"I told him it's not going to change how I'm going to play," Kessler said. "I'm going to continue to push myself … as if I am still competing against guys across the country."

Browne, who starred at Sammamish (Wash.) High and enrolled at USC in January 2013, showed great improvement this spring, especially on deep and mid-range passes.

But it was not enough to overtake a player with 14 games of experience.

Sarkisian informed Browne of his decision about an hour before practice.

"I guess I was hoping it would go into summer with just the mind-set of working and getting a chance to go into fall with it," Browne said.

Browne said he would remain at USC. He also said he was encouraged by Sarkisian's review of USC's quarterback history in the last 12 years.

Sarkisian served as a Trojans assistant when Carson Palmer held off and then was succeeded by Matt Leinart. Both won the Heisman. John David Booty and Mark Sanchez also performed well when they finally got their chances, and Matt Cassel has forged an NFL career without ever starting at USC.

Browne said the message was, "Just stay the course and be ready. You never know when your shot's going to be. And when you get it make the most of it."

Sarkisian praised Browne and Greene — "Max is going to be a star.… Jalen is going to be a great player" — and said the Trojans would need all three quarterbacks this season.

"There's not many teams around the country that can go 14 games, now potentially 15 games, with one healthy guy the entire time," Sarkisian said, adding, "You just try to prepare them all and figure out the things they do well."

gary.klein@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimesklein

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SportsUSCSteve SarkisianFootballUSC TrojansCarson PalmerLane Kiffin
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