After leading USC to nine straight wins last season – including victories over Washington, Notre Dame, and Penn State – Sam Darnold was the talk of the college football world. Analysts spoke glowingly of him all offseason, as a Heisman Trophy and national title seemed well within the Trojans’ reach.
Well, No. 5 USC (4-0) remains unblemished in 2017, but Darnold’s play has been called into question. He already has seven interceptions after throwing just nine all of last season.
Is it possible that expectations for Darnold were a bit too high?
“I think they always are for quarterbacks,” Pac-12 Network analyst Yogi Roth said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “Think about the West Coast the last couple of years. It was Brett Hundley, it was Matt Barkley – it was all these guys. Even Andrew Luck, you put him at the very top and then what do you do? You do the same thing in the NFL. You just kind of pick them apart a little bit – not in a negative way where you’re trying to tear a kid down. It’s just kind of, that’s what happens when your expectations are that high. It was the same thing with Lamar Jackson.
“So I think it’s fair. I think it’s kind of part of it,” Roth continued. “But I just don’t think it’s accurate when I’ll listen to Saturday-night recap shows, and it’s, ‘I’m worried about Sam Darnold and his seven picks.’ Well, why did he throw it? What happened on the play? For me, that’s where you got to go back and watch it.”
Roth has a weekly podcast with Darnold called Season of Sam. It’s reminded Roth that Darnold is, well, still a kid.
“He’s still developing,” Roth said. “He’s still 20 years old, and I think we forget that about college kids because we see the helmet on and a face mask. And then you get to sit next to them and you’re like, ‘Wow, this young man, he’s a baby. He’s still kind of getting going.’ I just think it’s a reality that we’re going to criticize and (pick quarterbacks) apart. That comes with playing quarterback at USC or any major program. I think he’s playing at a high level. Clearly I think he’s got a long ways to go and a huge career in front of him, but I’m not concerned with how he’s playing right now at all. I think he’s playing really well.”
USC, which has found itself in fourth-quarter nail-biters seemingly every week, plays No. 16 Washington (4-0) on the road Friday in Pullman. Kickoff is slated for 10:30 p.m. ET.