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History shows third year as starter is charmed for USC quarterbacks

One of the advantages the USC Trojans should have in the 2015 season is the presence of quarterback Cody Kessler, a fifth-year senior who returns for his third year as the starter. History shows there has been a lot of success when having such a veteran. Here is a look at how USC has fared with senior quarterbacks who were entering their third year, or more, as the starter:

Jimmie Jones (1969-71)

After leading the Trojans to a Rose Bowl win as a sophomore and a legendary road win against Alabama in his junior year, Jones and USC struggled by those standards in his senior year with a 6-4-1 record. He completed 89 of 161 passes for 995 yards with seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions as a senior. It was a different era for throwing the ball (Kessler threw seven TD’s alone in one game against Colorado last season) but his career body of work was enough to result in Jones being inducted into the USC Athletics Hall of Fame this year.

Pat Haden (1972-74)

OK, it’s a stretch to call Haden a 3-year starter, because Mike Rae was the actual starter in 1972 for the national title team, but Haden played enough that year (he actually threw more TD’s than Rae) to warrant being included on this list. In 1974 as a senior, Haden helped lead a dramatic 55-24 comeback victory against Notre Dame, and threw the winning touchdown pass to seal a Rose Bowl win against Ohio State, resulting in a national championship for the 10-1-1 Trojans.

Rodney Peete (1986-88)

Peete had the Trojans positioned for shot at a national title as a senior, with a regular-season finale that pitted No. 1 Notre Dame against the No. 2 Trojans in the Coliseum. Unfortunately for USC things didn’t go their way that day, and a Rose Bowl loss to Michigan followed. But it was a memorable 10-2 season that saw Peete come out of the hospital in dramatic fashion to beat UCLA after a case of the measles. He completed 223 of 359 passes for 2,812 yards with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a senior.

Rob Johnson (1992-94)

After a pair of Freedom Bowl appearances in his first two full seasons as a starter, Johnson led USC to an 8-3-1 record as a senior and a 55-14 victory in the Cotton Bowl against Texas Tech, where Keyshawn Johnson had a game-record three touchdown catches and 222 receiving yards. That season, Johnson was 186-276 for 2,499 yards with 15 touchdowns and six interceptions.

Carson Palmer (1998, 2000-02)

The performance by Palmer and the Trojans in his senior year was the foundation upon which the Pete Carroll era was born at USC. It all came together in that final season for Carson, and culminated with a 425-yard passing performance against Notre Dame that helped clinch the Heisman Trophy, and a resounding victory against Iowa in the Orange Bowl that had many proclaiming USC as playing the best football in the country at the end of the season. Palmer finished with 309 completions on 489 attempts for 3,942 yards with 33 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Matt Leinart (2003-05)

It was almost a storybook ending to his senior season for Leinart and the Trojans, a title-game loss to Texas away from completing perhaps the greatest run in college football history. But the loss doesn’t take away from what did happen, and you can argue that the moments of 4th-and-9, and the "Bush Push," against Notre Dame rank high enough in USC lore on their own to consider Leinart’s final season a success. He was 283 of 431 for 3,815 yards with 28 touchdowns and eight interceptions as a senior, to go along with a Heisman, a 34-game win streak and a pair of national titles earlier in his career.

Matt Barkley (2009-12)

This one didn’t turn out quite as well as some of the others on the list. Barkley’s senior season was set up so well at the start, a USC program that seemingly had found a way to fight through NCAA sanctions to warrant being ranked No. 1 heading into the season with a Heisman favorite at quarterback. It ended with losses in five of the last six games, and Barkley on the sidelines with a shoulder injury suffered against UCLA. Barkley completed 246 of 387 passes for 3,273 yards with 36 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.