Helton: USC's quarterback competition will continue in fall
LOS ANGELES (AP) Southern California's quarterback competition will continue in fall training camp after coach Clay Helton was unable to choose a winner in spring practice.
Helton announced his decision to extend the competition Monday.
Junior Max Browne and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold are the front-runners in the Trojans' second true quarterback competition since 2009. Browne was the presumptive favorite heading into his fourth season at USC, but the athletic Darnold has made it tighter than anticipated.
''There were a number of open positions on our team this spring where players performed very well, including the quarterbacks,'' Helton said in a statement released by the school. ''I met with them today and told them that, based on how well they played, I have decided to continue the quarterback competition into fall camp. I will wait until then to name a starter.''
USC has had only two starting quarterbacks in the past seven seasons. Cody Kessler started and succeeded four-year starter Matt Barkley in 2013.
Helton is heading into his first full season as USC's head coach after taking over for Steve Sarkisian during last season. He was the Trojans' quarterbacks coach for the previous six years, but that familiarity apparently didn't make it any easier to choose among Browne, Darnold and Jalen Greene.
Browne and Darnold are close friends off the field, and they won't be surprised to hear Helton's decision to extend the race. After the Trojans' spring game at the Coliseum on Saturday, they both said they didn't expect to find out their fate until the fall.
''I think it's good for them to see that you're not afraid of competing,'' said Darnold, an Orange County product whose strong arm and running ability have impressed his teammates. ''The way I've played has definitely showed the coaches that this isn't as easy a competition as some people thought.''
Browne has seen four head coaches at USC since Lane Kiffin's staff recruited him out of Sammamish, Washington, where he was one of the nation's top high school players. He threw 19 passes in nine games as Kessler's backup over the previous two seasons.
Browne has more experience and a spectacular arm for deep balls, but he acknowledges he's still working on mastering the extra dimensions of the Trojans' revamped offense under Helton and new offensive coordinator Tee Martin.
''My goal was to win the job at the end of spring,'' Browne said Saturday. ''Didn't happen, but not the end of the world. It's a product of two quarterbacks playing well. It's just the nature of the beast.''
The Trojans will be loaded with returning skill players around their new starting quarterback as they chase their first Pac-12 title since 2008, Mark Sanchez's only season as their starting quarterback.
USC's top five receivers and two 900-yard rushers from last season are all back this fall.
''We know either quarterback can get the job done,'' said receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who caught 89 passes for 1,454 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. ''They're going to be great for our program.''
The competition winner gets a dubious prize: The Trojans' season opener is at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 3.