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USC gives Max Browne starting nod at quarterback over Sam Darnold

Redshirt junior Max Browne has been named USC's starting quarterback, coach Clay Helton announced Saturday.

The decision gives Browne two weeks to prepare as the starter in anticipation of the Trojans' opener against defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 3 in Arlington, Texas.

"At this point, we feel that it is in the best interest of our football team to lean on the veteran experience that Max Browne has, so we have named him the starter going into our opening game against Alabama," Helton said in a statement. "With our experienced offensive line and the weapons at our skill positions, we as a staff are confident that Max's ability will help guide a very successful offense."

It had long been assumed Browne, the No. 2-ranked quarterback in the Class of 2013, would take over following Cody Kessler's departure, but he received a serious challenge from redshirt freshman Sam Darnold. Following spring practice, Helton said Browne's lead over Darnold wasn't significant enough for him to end the competition at that time. He wanted to see how both quarterbacks progressed through the summer of player-run practices and a couple of weeks of training camp.

When practice resumed Aug. 4, Helton reaffirmed Browne had a slight lead, but over the past two weeks he and the rest of the coaching staff remained tight-lipped about where things stood -- both with the media and the two quarterbacks.

For casual observers, their play during that time didn't do much to clear things up. There were days when it appeared Darnold, who is the better athlete, was the superior option and others when the edge went to Browne.

On Thursday, Helton said he hoped Friday's scrimmage would solidify how he felt about where things stood, and Browne answered with arguably his best performance of training camp. He guided the offense on touchdown drives on his first three possessions, while the unit largely sputtered with Darnold on the field.

"I was thrilled when Coach Helton gave me the news," Browne said in a statement. "It was a moment of realization that hard work and staying the course paid off for me. I feel like I have put in the work necessary to earn the starting position and I look forward to leading this team to championships. Sam is a heck of a player and he pushed me to the final day of camp. We are good friends and I have no doubt he will have a great career at USC."

Helton does not plan to use a platoon system.

"I never want a guy looking over his back all the time, like 'Oh, this series, if I don't do good, I'm out,'" he said Friday. "I just think that puts undue stress on a kid. There's two reasons that a quarterback gets pulled: One, by injury, or, two, by lack of production over a period of time. Not just one game or a series."

Helton did, however, mention red-zone and short-yardage as two situations where Darnold could be used.

"The performance by Darnold at such a young age in both spring and fall camps has made us very confident as a staff that Sam could enter any game and our offense would not miss a beat," Helton said. "Though we will not rotate quarterbacks, we do envision using Sam's unique athletic skill set for special situations throughout games this season."

Browne, who has graduated and would have been eligible to transfer and play right away elsewhere, signed with the Trojans when Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was the coach. He enrolled early but was quickly ruled out of the competition involving Kessler and Max Wittek prior to the 2013 season. After Kiffin was fired and Steve Sarkisian replaced him, Browne competed with Kessler in the spring, but the competition did not last into fall camp.

Over the past two seasons as Kessler's backup, Browne's opportunities were scarce. Kessler never missed a game to injury and Browne completed 11 of 19 passes for 143 yards without a touchdown or interception in mop-up duty. He was the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year following his senior year at Skyline High in Sammamish, Washington.

Darnold, who is from San Clemente, California, said he did not plan to transfer if he didn't win the starting job.