USC needs a win at No. 24 Utah on Friday night to avoid a 1-3 start. To get one, the Trojans are turning to a new quarterback, with head coach Clay Helton naming redshirt freshman Sam Darnold his starter.
Max Browne started the year's first three games for the Trojans and wasn't horrid but also wasn't particularly efficient, throwing for 158 yards per game and two total touchdowns and interceptions. Darnold's appeared in sub packages, especially around the red zone, in each game. Now he'll carry a fuller load and look for a way to get the Trojans out of a loud Rice-Eccles Stadium with a win in tow. That won't be easy.
The Utes are 3-0, with their only game of consequence a dramatic Holy War triumph against BYU in Week 2. It's hard to say exactly what USC is this season, but the Trojans are probably the best team Utah's played so far. They also need to win to avoid a total disaster of a start. It seems like the Utes are in for a fight, and if not, the Trojans have serious issues.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 9 p.m. ET, FS1. The broadcasters are Joe Davis, Brady Quinn and Jenny Taft.
Online streaming: Fox Sports GO
Spread: The Utes are 3.5-point favorites.
Three big things to know
1. Darnold's playing for the right to keep playing. Helton left open the possibility that USC could make further switches at quarterback, so Darnold's status as the starter isn't necessarily a permanent arrangement. The Trojans didn't bench Browne because he made mistakes. His interceptions numbered only two in three weeks. They benched him because the offense hasn't moved the ball at all, averaging 4.64 yards per play (115th in the country) and scoring 20.3 points per game (108th). The Trojans don't just need ball security. They need efficiency and lots of yards. That's what's now on Darnold.
2. The Utes' pass rush has been devastating. Utah's got 15 sacks in three weeks, second-best in the sport. This defense brings pressure from all over, and those 15 sacks have come from 10 different players. Senior left end Hunter Dimick's three are the most on the roster. He'll be a handful for USC right tackle Zack Banner, who stands 6'8 and could be a top NFL draft pick next year. Darnold is mobile, and he'll need to use his legs to keep himself upright.
3. Is USC primed for another upset that isn't really an upset? Last year, the Trojans were scuffling at 3-3 when then-third-ranked Utah came to Los Angeles. The Utes were on a great run, but they weren't (and still aren't) as talented as the Trojans, and USC used the occasion to briefly halt its underachievement in a 42-24 win. Utah has looked significantly better than USC so far this year, but if the Trojans turn things on and win big, it won't send anybody into shock.