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State of the Trojans: Quarterback

The USC Trojans entered 2019 spring ball with the promise of a quarterback competition, and that certainly materialized, as Matt Fink, Jack Sears, JT Daniels, and Kedon Slovis all saw a significant number of reps with the first unit offense.

Following spring practice, Fink entered his name into the transfer portal and subsequently transferred to Illinois, giving the Trojans three scholarship quarterbacks heading into the fall.

Daniels served as the starter in 2018, completing 59.5% of his passes for 2,672 yards and 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. The USC offense went through a number of difficult stretches, though it’s tough to put too much blame on a true freshman quarterback when there were deficiencies in a number of other places.

Daniels looked very good this spring settling into a new offensive system brought to USC by new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Graham Harrell. He made a number of really nice throws that only he can make and looked in control of the offense. He and the coaches brought up the concept of leadership a number of times, which is something Daniels said he is working to improve after trying to stay quiet and take everything in last year as a true freshman. Harrell mentioned that he would like Daniels to operate faster in the system, getting the ball out quickly rather than trying to read the entire defense on every snap.

Sears stepped his game up this spring as well, as he looked every bit capable of taking over the starting quarterback position. In one game last year, he completed 71.4% of his passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He brings a running element to the position that isn’t there with Daniels and is one of those quarterbacks who gets better and better the more gamelike the environment. Harrell’s critique of Sears was that he can occasionally abandon the play early and look for a lane to take off and run. While running ability is a positive in any offensive system, Harrell clearly prefers his quarterbacks to operate in the pocket and avoid taking hits whenever possible. Still, the running ability has to register as a plus when it comes to Sears’ ability to move the ball and pick up first downs.

Behind the two returners, early enrollee freshman Kedon Slovis was probably one of the three or four most pleasant surprises of spring ball. He is a natural thrower and the ball comes out of his hand really smoothly. Harrell mentioned that Slovis actually has an advantage of this being the only college offense he’s ever had to learn, which means he doesn’t have to unlearn or adjust to anything. While it might be too much to believe that Slovis will truly be in the mix to unseat Daniels or jump ahead of Sears in the pecking order, this spring showed that the Trojans have something real in Slovis, and that is good news for the future.

Future outlook

It won’t be surprising if the backup quarterback this season eventually transferred, which makes signing an elite 2020 quarterback a significant priority. Luckily, the Trojans have one of the best in the country already committed, as Mater Dei’s Bryce Young pledged to USC last summer. Despite a number of offensive changes, Young has stuck with that commitment and shown no signs of wavering. He is a dynamic playmaker and despite his small stature, has everything you want in a quarterback to excel in this Air Raid system. No matter what happens with the current quarterbacks, it would be a shock if USC went after a second quarterback in the 2020 class.

That means recruiting focus has shifted to the 2021 class, as several Texas prospects have been offered, including Preston Stone (Dallas/Parish Episcopal) and Behren Morton (Eastland, Texas/Eastland). If an out of state prospect fails to show significant interest, attention could turn local, to prospects such as Miller Moss (Mission Hills, Calif./Alemany) and Jake Garcia (Harbor City, Calif./Narbonne). But it could be difficult to convince a local standout to jump in line behind Young.

Erik McKinney

Erik McKinney began writing for WeAreSC in 2004, during his junior year at USC, covering the Trojans football team and recruiting. He then moved on to ESPN.com in 2011, where he served as the West Region recruiting reporter and then the Pac-12 recruiting reporter. He took over as publisher of WeAreSC in January, 2019.

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