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NCAA Football : Achilles Heel? The Myth Of The USC Quarterback In The NFL


LOS ANGELES For all of their many accomplishments on the college gridiron, USC quarterbacks have mostly flopped at the next level.

One would think that a major college program that has produced 11 national titles, 38 conference titles and seven Heisman Trophy winners, including two by quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart, that a USC quarterback would lead an NFL team to a Super Bowl, but for the last quarter century, that simply has not been the case. 

In what many would consider to be the perfect dream environment of warm weather, cool beaches and playing for one of the most storied college programs ever, that USC signal-callers would be put in the best place possible to succeed.

In a conference as high-scoring and prolific as the Pac-10—now Pac-12, schools such as bitter crosstown rival UCLA has produced Troy Aikman—albeit a transfer from Oklahoma, Andrew Luck, John Elway and Jim Plunkett of Stanford, Warren Moon and Mark Brunell from Washington, Drew Bledsoe and Mark Rypien from Washington State, Dan Fouts from Oregon and Steve Bartkowski and Aaron Rodgers from Cal, that a program with the tradition, history, alumni and marquee big-time allure that USC would at least have produced a decent—if not franchise-level NFL quarterback by now? 

You’d think that for a school who takes it’s name from the fabled Trojans of legend that USC quarterbacks would be more like the brave and fearless Hector than the cowardly and slight Paris, Alas, it is not, and have proven to be such a vexing beast in the NFL that not even the mighty Achilles cannot defeat. 

It doesn’t help that over the last 20-plus years that the likes of Todd Marinovich, Rob Jonhson, John David Booty, Rodney Peete, Sean Salisbury, Matt Cassel, Leinart, Palmer and Mark Sánchez have been hit and mostly miss on Sundays, their greatness—and cast of uber-talent and super coaches on Saturdays—at the fabled Coliseum may have masked some of their major shortcomings at the next level. 

While Palmer and Leinart would win Heisman’s during their time at USC, their NFL careers have been anything but spectacular, with Leinart giving former Pac-12 alum, Ryan Leaf, a run for his money as biggest Pac-12 QB bust of all time, as he is now 30, after recently being cut by the Buffalo Bills, has been on four teams in seven NFL seasons, since being taken tenth overall in the 2006 NFL Draft. 

Palmer, for all of his early years of playing on many bad teams in Cincinnati, was en route to leading the Bengals to a probable victory over the hated Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2005 AFC Wild Card game before suffering a horrific knee injury on a low hit from Steelers lineman Kimo von Oelhoffen, completed a 66-yard touchdown pass to Chris Henry

After that fateful hit, the Bengals playoff hopes would crumple—much like his knee—and the Steelers would go on to win their fifth Super Bowl.  For all of his early success in going to two Pro Bowls in 2005 and 2006, he hasn’t been the same player since.

Sánchez, who only played one year as starting quarterback, would be taken fifth in the 2009 NFL Draft by the New York Jets—via a trade with the Cleveland Browns, who ultimately would select future Pro Bowl center from Cal, Alex Mack.

While Sánchez would come the closest to end the Trojan Horse of futility for USC quarterbacks in leading the Jets to the AFC Championship Game his first two years, he is now more known for a certain butt-fumble, penchant for throwing interceptions, a bloated salary and his “Blair Waldorf” Gossip Girl-like head band.

Yup, tough times to be an USC quarterback in the NFL these days right?

And to think that on 15 occasions, USC quarterbacks have won a national title, Heisman or played in the Rose Bowl, but not one has played in a Super Bowl. 

Again, how is that possible when you have some of the best coaching staffs in the game such as Carroll, Steve Sarkasian, Lane Kiffin and offensive “guru” Norm Chow at the controls and top-tier players such as Reggie Bush, Keyshawn Johnson to throw or hand off too and guys such as left tackle Tony Boselli to protect your blind side? 

Could it be a system issues, warm weather, or a sense of entitlement, many theories are out there about why USC quarterbacks have fail to transition successfully to the NFL.

Perhaps, fourth-round rookie Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, Matt Barkley may be able to break the so-called “Trojan Curse” of mediocre SoCal quarterbacks in the NFL, as he will have an opportunity to sit and learn from the bench instead of being thrust into starting before he was ready like Palmer, Leinart and Sánchez were. 

Granted, Sánchez had the benefit of veteran players and a tough defense to make his job easier, Leinart and Palmer were put in bad spots on rebuilding teams in Cincinnati and Arizona.

Can Barkley break the string? who knows, but based on their current track record of lack of success, quarterbacks once known for playing the Men of Troy, have not become NFL men of joy. 

Fight On?  

Robert D. Cobb is the Founder/CEO/Senior Editor-In-Chief Of The Inscriber : Digital Magazine, for questions, comments and concerns email me at [email protected] follow me on Twitter @RC_TheInscriber and follow The Inscriber : Digital Magazine on Twitter at @TheInscriber


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at [email protected]

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