LOS ANGELES (AP) Max Browne has waited through three seasons and four head coaches to be Southern California's starting quarterback.
His chance has finally arrived, but only if he wins the Trojans' second real quarterback competition in seven years.
''I'm taking the mindset that it's my job to lose,'' Browne said.
Browne went through the first practice of his fourth spring at USC on Tuesday night alongside Sam Darnold and Jalen Greene, his top two rivals for a job that has changed hands only once since 2009. Matt Barkley was a four-year starter before Cody Kessler held the job for the past three years.
''It was just the hand I was dealt,'' Browne said. ''It was tough. I'm not going to sit here and say it was easy. But at the same time, you try to stay ready for an opportunity like this. Just staying prepared and staying ready was my mindset the past two or three years.''
Browne is eager to get started, particularly after watching the NFL combine on television. The Sammamish, Washington, product was among the nation's top handful of high school quarterbacks in 2013 alongside Jared Goff and Christian Hackenberg, who already have headed to the pros before Browne could make his first college start.
''It's 100 percent odd,'' Browne said. ''Jared was probably my best friend coming out of the recruiting circuit, and I knew he would kill it, so it's awesome to see those guys take the next step, but it's weird. It's ending for them, and kind of starting for me in another way. But everyone's situation is different. They were able to play right away. There was a need at that position at their schools.''
USC had no need thanks to Kessler, the remarkably durable and consistent starter. Browne was his backup for the last two years, completing 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards in nine games of mop-up duty.
Clay Helton, Browne's position coach for the last three years, has added new wrinkles to his offense during his first offseason as the Trojans' head coach. Browne's classic pocket style should fit Helton's aggressive passing offense well - and while nobody at USC is saying it out loud, it's tough to argue Browne doesn't deserve at least the first chance to start, based on his loyalty to the turbulent program when he easily could have transferred.
Helton hopes to name a starter by the spring game on April 16.
''I'm hoping after five great weeks of practice, we'll see where we're at and make the judgment,'' Helton said. ''If the gap is close and there's some progress that can be made, then we'll take it into the fall camp.''
Browne, Darnold and Greene are also adjusting to another round of coaching changes. Longtime Trojans assistant coach Tee Martin was promoted to offensive coordinator by Helton, while the new head coach hired his younger brother, Tyson, as USC's new quarterbacks coach.
Browne's style contrasts distinctly with the all-around athleticism of Darnold, the San Clemente, California, product who received raves from his teammates while redshirting last season.
''Me and Brownie are really tight as friends off the field,'' Darnold said. ''So he preaches to me it's a close battle going in, and we're both just going to compete.''
Greene worked at receiver last season after being recruited as a quarterback, and he's determined to get another shot behind center. Matt Fink, an early-enrollee freshman, is also in camp.
Whoever wins the competition will get to run an offense stacked with returning talent. The Trojans' top five receivers, entire starting offensive line and two 900-yard rushers are all back this fall.
There's a more dubious reward in store: The Trojans' season opener is against defending national champion Alabama in the Dallas Cowboys' palatial stadium.
USC's new quarterback will make his first career start under some of the toughest circumstances imaginable.
''I've (thought about) that a few times,'' Darnold said with a grin. ''That would be awesome. It's against Alabama, but you treat it like it's a normal game.''