The decision has been made and JT Daniels has been named the starting quarterback for the 2018 season opener against UNLV next Saturday.
It’s not an entirely unexpected decision nor is it really a surprise, but it’s still only the second time a true freshman QB has been named a starter at USC for the first game of his freshman season. Not coincidentally, the first true freshman to do it was Matt Barkley in 2009, who also played at Mater Dei and was a fellow Gatorade National Player of the Year as a junior.
Of course, much was made about the fact that Barkley was able to earn the starting role after graduating a semester early and taking part in USC spring ball drills, while Daniels bypassed his entire senior year with the Monarchs and was able to win the job after just three weeks of fall camp practices. Let’s not take that for granted. There’s no doubt JT has the skill and football acumen for an accomplishment like this but time was not on his side, particularly while competing against two other players in fall camp with reps being split equally among the three.
So what earned him the job? His arm.
JT has the most accurate arm I’ve ever seen from an incoming quarterback and at the end of the day that’s what separated him from Matt Fink and Jack Sears. JT had a series of moments with deep balls that I believe went a long way toward showing the coaches why he was ready. There was his first rep against the 1’s on opening day, when he dropped a 50-yard touchdown pass to Michael Pittman. Then there was his first scrimmage in the Coliseum where he threw touchdown passes on his first three possessions, and four on the day overall.
He’s also got one of the more advanced football minds around, according to pretty much every football person who comes in contact with him. The fact that he signed in spring allowed him to attend spring ball practices and meetings, he was able to get play sheets and follow along with practice film to get the mental reps. For a player like JT, this was an important development in terms of allowing him to show up for summer works and fall camp ready to compete. And as it turned out, it was enough for Clay Helton and the coaches the make the move.
There were a lot of eyes on Helton to see how he handled the competition this time around as there are still many who look back at the way he handled the Max Browne-Sam Darnold competition and think that that things could have been done different. This time around Helton made to sure to conduct things as evenly as possible, so that every quarterback could say they received a fair shot. That’s certainly consistent with Helton as a person and a coach, no matter how high-profile someone like Daniels is the coach is going to make sure he treats Fink and Sears with respect in the process. And while both Fink and Sears had their moments in camp I think this is the correct decision. I know what my eyes have seen in player-run-practices and fall camp practices, and JT Daniels would have been my choice too.