Max Browne

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USC expected to name starting QB ‘shortly after spring game’

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For those wondering who will be under center for USC when it opens up the 2016 season, your wait is likely almost over.

In the competition to replace Cody Kessler as the Trojans’ starting quarterback, it’s essentially been a two-man race: Max Browne, the presumptive front-runner, and redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. While many an observer had all but given the starting job to the former five-star Browne, Darnold has, by all accounts, closed the gap considerably since the start of spring practice last month.

With the Trojans set to put the finishing touches on practice with the spring game Saturday evening, first-year head coach Clay Helton is set to put the finishing touches on this phase of the quarterback competition shortly thereafter.

“I’m going to let it go through the spring game and then make a decision,” Helton said in comments distributed by the school. “Just being honest, I don’t think there’s a huge gap between the quarterbacks. I want to take it to the spring game, that atmosphere, and see how the guys react.”

Nearly a week ago, Helton acknowledged that “[t]here is a gap and I think obviously Max is in the lead right now.” The fact that Helton now describes the competition as lacking “a huge gap” has led some to rethink the front-runner, although it would still be considered a little more than mildly surprising if the starter exiting the spring is anyone other than Browne.

The last two seasons as Kessler’s primary backup, the redshirt junior Browne completed 11-of-19 passes for 143 yards. Darnold, meanwhile, was a four-star dual-threat quarterback in the Class of 2015 who took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

This season, USC will open against defending national champion Alabama in Arlington, Tex.