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Jaxson Dart is chosen as USC’s backup quarterback over Miller Moss

USC quarterback Jaxson Dart scrambles during the USC spring game in April.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Just one year ago, Jaxson Dart was barely a blip on USC’s radar. The young Utah quarterback had no Power Five offers. His profile didn’t even appear on all the major recruiting sites.

It would take a senior-season transfer, a pandemic-altered high school campaign, and a meteoric rise to Gatorade national player of the year for Dart to arrive at this moment, with coach Clay Helton making official Thursday what so many around USC had expected since the freshman’s standout spring. Dart will be USC’s backup quarterback behind Kedon Slovis this season, while Miller Moss, a fellow four-star freshman, will occupy the No. 3 spot.

Slovis remains the unquestioned starter under center. The significance of the selection at backup quarterback extends beyond this season, with Dart now presumed to be at the center of USC’s future plans at the position and Moss — for now, at least — on the outside looking in.

Dart has certainly looked the part of heir apparent since his arrival in April. As the competition between the two freshmen played out through August, Helton said Dart rose to the occasion during live repetitions and scrimmage situations.

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“That’s what I needed to see, and he was a little more productive in those situations than Miller,” Helton said. “Obviously, both guys are elite. Both guys will continue to compete. I talked to both of them about it. Miller, have a chip on your shoulder and continue to compete and Jaxson, compete like heck to hold the job. That’s college football, that’s NFL football. You’re fighting for another 24 hours. But I credit both kids, I really do, for their approach to the competition, how well they competed, their growth from Practice 1 in spring all the way through now. The future is bright with those two kids.”

How Moss might respond to Dart’s ascent up the depth chart remains to be seen. When Helton sat down with him to break the news, the USC coach said he told Moss the story of how, in 2012, then-freshman Cody Kessler was relegated to the No. 3 spot behind fellow freshman Max Wittek and starter Matt Barkley.

Bru McCoy won’t face criminal charges following an allegation of intimate partner violence, but USC’s Title IX office is still reviewing the incident and it’s unclear whether he will be reinstated on the football team.

“I remember him having that chip on his shoulder and carrying it all the way through the fall, all the way through the spring,” Helton recalled of Kessler, “and then you look up and he was the starting quarterback after Max left.”

Helton didn’t rule out a similar situation for next spring, when the two young Trojans quarterbacks will likely find themselves competing again to replace Slovis, assuming the All-Pac-12 Conference passer declares for the draft as expected. Helton told both Dart and Moss as much.

After more than a few quarterback competitions, Helton said he’s learned that brutal honesty is often the best policy.

“If you don’t like your role you can change it by how hard you work, how you progress, how you compete and every opportunity that you get you put good tape together,” Helton said. “So those two guys will continue, I know, to grow as quarterbacks, and it will be a great competition in the future, too.”

For Moss, an extra year of experience could make a major difference. The freshman acknowledged early in camp that he’d lost ground to Dart in the spring following a 17-month hiatus from football because of the pandemic.

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Moss finally started to find his footing this fall. Yet as Dart threw three touchdowns in USC’s first scrimmage, it seemed unlikely that Moss would make up the ground he’d lost.

“He’s the Gatorade player of the year,” Moss said of Dart earlier this month. “It’s not like I’m competing with some bum. But I think competition only makes you better.”

That was the case for Dart this fall, as he ironed out early kinks before coming alive late in camp.

“My whole life, I’ve been able to be the guy,” Dart said in early August. “We have a ton of competition in our room, and it’s great because it brings the best out of all of us. I have my goals, and I’m just going to keep pushing for them.”


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