The 2017 Rose Bowl game was an instant classic as USC topped Penn State 52-49 on a last second field goal. No one could have predicted that USC would win the Rose Bowl after a 1-3 start to their season. One man changed the fate of the Trojans season. His name is Sam Darnold and the current favorite to become the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Unlike this upcoming draft, the 2018 NFL Draft looks like it will be loaded at quarterback including conference counterparts Jake Browning and Josh Rosen. After breaking a Rose Bowl record of 5 passing touchdowns in a single game, let’s take a closer look at Darnold and his future as a franchise quarterback in the NFL.
Prior to the Rose Bowl game, Darnold first caught my eye during a game that I was supposed to keep an eye on California quarterback Davis Webb (Who also has a bright NFL future). Darnold wasn’t supposed to be USC starting quarterback this season. That was expected to be Max Browne who was the 2nd rated high school quarterback prospect in 2013. Sometimes the transition from high school to college simply doesn’t pan out as we figured out fairly soon that Browne wasn’t any good after USC was clobbered by Alabama 52-6 in the season opener. Sam Darnold would have never seen the field if Browne had done his part but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for USC. That’s when Darnold’s journey began.
Darnold, a redshirt freshman, has now rattled off 9 straight wins after losing his first career start. It is the longest win streak since the days of Mark Sanchez. This is a guy who is extremely confident. USC originally recruited Darnold as a linebacker during his junior year of high school. He refused to commit to other schools as a 4-star quarterback recruit knowing that he had the talent start at USC. Darnold got the chance to redshirt and learn while Cody Kessler was entrenched as the starter in 2015. Going into the 2016 season he knew coaches would be enamored with his throwing ability. Once he got his chance Darnold and USC didn’t turn back.
With his Freshman season concluded Darnold finished the year with 31 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 10 starts. The highlight of the season included wins over Penn State in the Rose Bowl and Washington who played in the college football playoff. I had argued that USC belonged in the playoff as they represented a different team once Darnold took over. Going into the Rose Bowl he had completed over 68 percent of his throws which is an impressive number for any Freshman signal caller. He was the runaway winner as Pac 12 Freshman of the year award winner. Heading into next season, USC should be favorites to win a National Championship thanks in large part to Darnold.
When you watch Sam play you notice that he isn’t like most USC quarterbacks. There is no question that the 6’4″ quarterback has the brightest NFL future of any Trojan in recent memory. Unlike Mark Sanchez, Matt Leinart, etc, Darnold has an electric arm. Aaron Rodgers was the first name that popped in my mind as a comparison (Yes he is that good). I haven’t seen a college quarterback who is able to ad lib on plays and create something out of nothing more than the USC freshman sensation. The ball just jumps off his arm even when facing pressure. Darnold just throws darts on a consistent basis. The deep ball accuracy simply is remarkable when you consider that this guy is just a freshman. You’re looking at the 2018 first overall pick and he is only going to get better.