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USC names redshirt junior Max Browne starting quarterback

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES – Southern California named redshirt junior Max Browne its starting quarterback Saturday.

Trojans coach Clay Helton gave Browne the nod over redshirt freshman Sam Darnold two weeks before the opener against defending national champion Alabama. The school announced the decision on Twitter.

Backing up three-year starter Cody Kessler each of the last two seasons, Browne is 11 of 19 passing for 143 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions in nine career appearances. He does have an impressive pedigree as the top pro-style high school quarterback in the 2013 recruiting cycle, committing to USC under then-coach Lane Kiffin, and prototypical attributes for a pocket passer at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds.

Browne was able to hold off an unexpected challenge from the mobile Darnold, whose performance kept Helton from picking a starter at the end of spring practice. Instead, Helton gave both quarterbacks the first two weeks of training camp to state his case, and the veteran did so.

In a final scrimmage Friday, Browne was 13 of 22 passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

“Max did a very nice job coming out and really putting the ball around, not making critical errors,” Helton said afterward.

Avoiding turnover fits in with the ball-control approach Helton employed as interim coach. USC had a plus-nine turnover margin while going 5-2 in the regular season under Helton after Steve Sarkisian was fired last October. With a veteran offensive line and talented skill players around Browne, a low-risk approach to game management for the quarterback seems likely even as USC faces the most difficult schedule in the nation.

Helton said Friday that he would not rotate quarterbacks, though he did not rule out the possibility of a limited package of plays that could be deployed situationally in the red zone or short yardage, presumably using Darnold’s dual-threat skill set. After the awkward start to 2013 when Kessler and Max Wittek split playing time in USC’s first two games, Helton plans to give Browne every opportunity to take hold of the position.

“I’ve always thought that you give the opportunity to the quarterback to show what he can do, and hopefully that is multiple games. Hopefully it’s seasons, to be honest with you. That’s usually when things are going good,” Helton said Friday.

But Helton believes success is possible with Browne or Darnold as the starter.

“I think both quarterbacks have a chance to be elite guys, not only here but in the future at the next level,” Helton said Friday.

Now the focus will turn to the symmetry of Browne making his first college start against the Crimson Tide, where Kiffin is now the offensive coordinator.

“It’s fun watching film on them and you can see their offense. ‘Hey, that play,’ you can riddle it off and it’s familiar. You can see familiar aspects from two-three years ago, which is cool,” Browne said on the first day of fall camp. “It’s cool that he is having success, I’m happy for him and excited for Week 1.”

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