Browne deserved a better experience


first_imgThere are times when sports are amazing, like when a team that hasn’t won a championship in 108 years finally breaks the drought and the viral video of an 81-year-old Cubs fan jumping for joy makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. Then, there are times when sports are sad and unfortunate and make you realize all of life’s cruelties — just ask Max Browne.The redshirt junior quarterback’s time at USC is winding down, and the clock probably couldn’t move faster for him. In a span of 10 weeks, Browne has gone from USC’s next heralded quarterback to an underperforming backup to a frustrated soldier looking to transfer and salvage his final season of eligibility.He had more than paid his dues to earn the starting job. Coming out of Skyline High School in Washington, Browne was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. Analysts compared him to Peyton Manning. He had 11 other offers from schools ranging from Oklahoma to Alabama, yet he chose USC knowing that he would be competing with then-redshirt sophomores Cody Kessler and Max Wittek for the starting job.“As a quarterback growing up on the West Coast, at least for me personally, there was always the dream of growing up and being the quarterback for the Trojans,” he said to the Seattle Times after committing to USC in December of 2012.He probably didn’t anticipate having to wait four years for that dream to come true. He lost out to Kessler as a true freshman, and was redshirted. The following year, when Steve Sarkisian took over as head coach, Browne still could not beat Kessler for the starting job.He dutifully backed up Kessler last season in No. 6’s final year at USC. So with Kessler out of the picture, 2016 was finally supposed to be the once prized recruit’s time to shine.But then a monster in Alabama popped up on the schedule as the season opener, and Browne and the Trojans looked lost against the defending national champions. And there was Stanford waiting in Palo Alto in Week 3, where the offense looked stale and lackluster. Oh, and there was redshirt freshman Sam Darnold, a springy, dual-threat, dynamic quarterback who does nearly everything that Browne can’t.So staring down at a 1-2 record, an upcoming road game at Utah and his seat getting hotter by the second, head coach Clay Helton played the one asset in his back pocket: the quarterback card, swapping Browne for an unproven redshirt freshman. Darnold, in turn, has responded with incredible stats and crowd-dazzling plays to provide a much-needed spark to the Trojans’ season — and saving Helton’s job while at it. But Helton’s job security and Darnold’s rising star comes at Browne’s expense, and that hurts. Browne was the consummate professional, the loyal team player waiting for his chance. But at the first sign of trouble, he was flung to the side. It is hardly fair to judge what he would’ve done in a full season based on a three-game sample size, especially considering two of those games were against superior talent in Alabama and — at the time — a confident Pac-12 powerhouse in Stanford. “I look back on a few of those routes [against Stanford] and you’re kicking yourself a little bit, because that’s kind of what I’ve made my money on out here,” Browne said, trying to rationalize why he lost the starting job. Nonetheless, even the most ardent Browne supporters will admit Helton made the right call. Darnold is doing incredible things — single-handedly leading USC back into the Pac-12 South race — and the Trojans don’t have to worry about quarterback competitions for the next three years.What’s frustrating is that nobody did anything wrong here. Helton has been rightfully criticized for a number of decisions, but I’m not faulting him for giving the loyal Browne his long-awaited shot at quarterback, trusting that Browne’s talent as a former star recruit and his familiarity with the offense would outweigh the untapped potential in Darnold — despite the redshirt freshman impressing during both spring and fall camps. If my job was on the line, and I knew I had a wild card and potential lifesaver in Darnold, I would play that card 10 times out of 10. Likewise, no one can fault Darnold for seizing the day and putting any quarterback concerns to rest by starting his career 4-1.So now, Browne is left searching for playing time somewhere else — literally anywhere else.“I made sure my headline said ‘all NCAA schools’ for a reason: I’m willing to go anywhere,” Browne said after practice on Wednesday. “That was the case out of high school, and it’s no different, if not more emphasized, now.”It’s sad because the past four years at USC have done nothing to advance Browne’s football aspirations — if anything, they’ve made them worse. He has to play the recruiting game all over again, and if he wants playing time in his final season of eligibility, he probably won’t end up at a marquee program like USC.To be fair, the blame also falls on him. He had several chances to win the starting job, but Kessler was just better. When he finally did, he nearly lost — and eventually did lose — the position to a redshirt freshman. He could’ve made a much better first impression against Alabama, or could’ve hit the receivers he missed against Stanford. Perhaps he just isn’t as good as his recruiting status hyped him to be, or perhaps three years without regular game reps had a negative effect on him.But it all comes back to circumstance: If USC had started the season against three easy opponents, would Browne still be the quarterback? Instead, when Oregon visits the Coliseum on Saturday for Homecoming, fans will be singing the praises of Darnold, while Browne will be hardly noticeable, relegated to the sideline. Just a reminder that for every Cinderella story, there’s a hard-luck loser — ask the Indians, or ask Max Browne.Eric He is a sophomore majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Grinding Gears,” runs Fridays.last_img

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