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Sarkisian Stockpiling Quarterbacks for USC's Future


USC football stockpiled talented quarterbacks during its run of dominance in the 2000s, when current head coach Steve Sarkisian was an assistant to Pete Carroll. 

Sarkisian is emulating that blueprint now, aggressively hitting the recruiting trail for quarterback prospects. 

In the 2000s, the Trojans went from one Heisman Trophy winner, Carson Palmer, to another, Matt Leinart. Matt Cassell was at USC in the same era, and despite playing rarely, went on to a solid NFL career. John David Booty succeeded Leinart and played two underrated seasons as starter before turning over the reins to Mark Sanchez, whose 2008 was statistically similar to the Heisman campaigns of Palmer and Leinart. 

Cody Kessler now heads into 2015, his third season as USC's starter, generating a fair amount of Heisman buzz himself.

It's a departure from Kessler's first season behind center, when he backed into the starting job as then-head coach Lane Kiffin scrambled for a replacement to four-year signal-caller Matt Barkley. The ensuing problems that emanated from Kiffin not having a ready-made line of succession ultimately hastened his firing. 

Sarkisian has no such issue. When Kessler leaves the program after 2015, understudy Max Browne is primed to take over.

But after Browne, Sarkisian's aggressive quarterback recruitment strategy has USC stockpiling young playmakers. The most recent signing class featured a pair of 4-star prospects from the local prep scene: Ricky Town, a pro-style quarterback from Ventura's St. Bonaventure, and Sam Darnold, a dual-threat player out of San Clemente.

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Besides the 2015 signees, USC also gained a verbal commitment earlier this month from 2016 4-star prospect Matt Fink of Glendora, Calif. Add in Jalen Greene, a redshirt freshman this season, and that's quite a logjam on the depth chart. However, even this hasn't dissuaded Sarkisian's efforts to land 5-star 2017 recruit Tate Martell, who currently plays for Las Vegas prep powerhouse Bishop Gorman. 

While loading up on quarterback talent is a ploy from USC's strategy of years past, the type of quarterback being pursued by Sarkisian points to at least one significant philosophical departure. 

Martell is just 5-foot-11, much shorter than the line of Palmer, Leinart and Sanchez, who all stood tall in the pocket. But while Martell won't draw comparisons to those USC greats of the past, he has already garnered a highly complimentary comparison from Steve Clarkson, who told's Greg Biggins the 2017 prospect is reminiscent of Russell Wilson. 

Likewise, Darnold may have the size of USC quarterbacks past, but his rushing ability is unlike anything the Trojans have ever employed. He carried for 785 yards and 13 touchdowns his senior season at San Clemente High School, per

The diversity with which Sarkisian is building the USC quarterback corps should give the Trojans flexibility in scheme, tailoring the attack to the players rather than try to force a predetermined concept. 

It's a strategy with which other programs around the Pac-12 have succeeded, including the last two Pac-12 South champions, Arizona and Arizona State.  

Just one quarterback can play at a time, of course, and that's a harsh reality that has made transfers at the position an annual inevitability. USC parted with Aaron Corp in 2009, Max Wittek in '14, and is unlikely to keep every signal-caller it either already has on the roster, or is looking to add in the coming years. 

But by building up the pool for competition, Sarkisian can cultivate a system of succession that functions seamlessly, much like a decade ago.

— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Kensing is publisher of Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.