January 06, 2017

PITTSBURGH (AP) Max Browne spent four years at Southern California constantly competing for the starting quarterback job, with mixed results at best. The big-armed 21-year-old will get one last shot 2,500 miles away.

Sure, it's not quite the way Browne expected his college career to go. Yet standing inside the Pittsburgh complex on Friday wearing a blue polo shirt - a decided departure from USC's cardinal and gold - Browne was hardly complaining. He'll spend the next year working on his master's degree in customer insights and trying to win with coach Pat Narduzzi and the Panthers.

There are worse fates. A lot worse.

''I know I can play at a high level,'' Browne said. ''I know if I can do and do that here, I'll be just fine.''

Something that never quite happened with the Trojans. He spent two seasons backing up Cody Kessler then finally earned the shot he'd waited for when he rose to the top of the depth chart for the Trojans. His stay didn't last long. Facing a brutal stretch that included an opener against No. 1 Alabama and a visit to Stanford, Browne's grasp on the starting gig lasted all of three games before coach Clay Helton gave the ball to freshman Sam Darnold, last seen rallying the Trojans past Penn State in the Rose Bowl at the same time Browne was headed across the country to start the next chapter of his life.

''It was a tough first three games,'' said Browne, who completed 58 of 93 passes for 507 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in 2016. ''Played some great opponents. But that's the product of SC in general. You've always got someone behind you. Went out there, did what I felt I could. Things didn't work out. It is what it is. Happy to be here.''

And the Narduzzi is happy to have him with Nate Peterman - a graduate transfer himself - moving on after helping the Panthers to consecutive 8-5 seasons. Peterman's success in acclimating so quickly was one of the many selling points for Browne, who made just one campus visit while exploring his options. A couple of days around Narduzzi and the coaching staff was all he needed to see.

''All the pieces (seemed) to be lining up,'' Browne said. ''It seemed like a perfect fit. I wanted to pull the trigger right after.''

Instead Browne waited a bit, quietly moving out of his apartment after the Trojans granted him his release and returning briefly to his hometown in Sammamish, Washington, a Seattle suburb. The only moments of trepidation in between committing to the Panthers and arriving came last month when Pitt offensive coordinator took the same job at LSU.

''I had to do my due diligence,'' Browne said. ''There was a couple of calls involved. Not going to say it wasn't (stressful) but I fell in love with (Pitt).''

The Panthers will lose Peterman, record-setting running back James Conner and key pieces of one of the nation's best offensive lines but also return several playmakers, including wide receiver and All-America return specialist Quadree Henderson and 6-foot-3 wide receiver Jester Weah. Browne hasn't gotten a chance to throw to them yet, though that day is approaching quickly.

Browne already has one fan in the city: Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Xavier Grimble. The two were at USC together in 2013 and they reunited during Browne's visit to the city during the fall.

''He's got good pocket presence,'' Grimble said Friday. ''He can sit in the pocket and make the big throw.''

It's getting on the field enough to showcase that talent, however, that's been the issue. Browne will be given every chance to be under center when Pitt opens the 2017 season at Heinz Field on Sept. 2 against Youngstown State. It didn't work out at USC. He's planning on bringing that experience - both the good and the bad - with him to the Panthers.

''Feel like I've been a hard working kid, dedicated kid,'' Browne said. ''When things don't work your way, just want to fuel the fire.''

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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