Sam Darnold is challenging Max Browne in USC’s quarterback competition

Fourth-year junior Max Browne might not run away with USC’s quarterback competition after all.

Redshirt freshman Sam Darnold is closing in on Browne after eight spring practices.

“There is a gap and I think obviously Max is in the lead right now, but if you look at the plays Sam has made over the last couple of practices, he is flashing some brilliance out there,” Coach Clay Helton said Thursday.

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Seven practices remain on the schedule, including a scrimmage April 16 at the Coliseum.

Browne, Cody Kessler’s backup the last two seasons, was widely considered the favorite to win the starting job despite an impressive camp by Darnold last fall.

“The light is kind of coming on for him now,” Helton said about Darnold. “All the installation is kind of done and he is getting those reps that he had, you know in practice one, and now he’s doing things correctly and you’re seeing his talent take over.”

Despite the surge from Darnold, Browne continues to play as though he will be named starter. “I don’t ever get the feel like Max is looking over his shoulder,” Helton said.

Helton said he would name a starter this spring if there was a clear separation among the quarterbacks.

“I know if there was a huge, huge gap right now I’d probably do something, but right now both kids are battling,” Helton said.

Follow Lindsey Thiry on Twitter @LindseyThiry