When head coach Clay Helton announced Sunday that true freshman JT Daniels would be taking over the helm as the Trojans’ starting quarterback for Saturday’s season opener against UNLV, he was taking a risk — albeit a calculated one. With a total of three collegiate games played — not started, but played — among the three rostered quarterbacks, the competition for the starting job among redshirt sophomore Matt Fink, redshirt freshman Jack Sears and Daniels started on a rather even playing field. The one wrinkle thrown into that situation was the fact that only a year ago, Daniels was supposed to be entering his senior year of high school while Fink and Sears began fall camp.For Daniels, just about all the tangibles and intangibles of a Power Five starting quarterback are there. Throwing for over 4,100 yards with 52 touchdowns in his final season at Mater Dei? Check. Collecting the best possible personal and team accolades possible in winning a state and national championship while being honored as the 2017-18 Gatorade High School Male Athlete of the Year? Check. Showing, by all accounts, wisdom well beyond his years and a capacity for the limelight that has become a necessity as the USC signal caller? Check.Yet, the inherent risk lies in a player who has only formally practiced with the team for a few months. Learning the playbook, creating chemistry with upperclassmen wideouts such as redshirt sophomore Tyler Vaughns and junior Michael Pittman: These are skills that can only come with time. In his eyes, however, Helton feels that Daniels’ time has come. His maturity is the quality that shines through more than any other.“As you can imagine JT was excited when we let him know,” Helton said. “But his uncanny maturity kept him focused on what is next.”As is with the theme of Daniels’ college career so far, the quarterback enters rarified territory becoming just the second true freshman to start a USC season opener since Matt Barkley in 2009. In fact, Daniels is just one of four to ever do so at USC, joining Barkley, Heisman trophy winner Carson Palmer and Cotton Bowl champion Rob Johnson.The biggest lingering question about Daniels is his ability to come in and ease the pain of transitioning from an all-time USC great in Sam Darnold to, well, anyone else. If anything, Daniels is a barometer of what kind of program the Trojans are at the moment. In the early 2000s, USC was able to replace Palmer with Matt Leinart, a Heisman trophy winner and two-time national champion. John David Booty, who won two Rose Bowls, would follow Leinart. Compare this to the years that would follow in which many talented, highly touted quarterbacks would fail to maintain the same level of excellence, and it leaves the Trojans in a state of flux.As much as Daniels will be interesting to watch for his own growth as a player, it will be even more appealing to watch what he does to continue Darnold’s legacy of success. Who knows? Maybe after all the fire Helton has come under since being hired two years ago, it turns out he’s just as great a quarterback whisperer as Pete Carroll. Certainly, it will take a few national championships with some Heisman trophies sprinkled in before we can properly compare the two, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.In terms of what will be seen from Daniels now, it is unreasonable to have the same expectations for him that fans and media alike had of Darnold a year ago. Daniels, as good as he may be, is unlikely to be playing for a national championship this year. He may not even play for a Rose Bowl; currently the sights are set on taking the season one week at a time. Unlike Darnold, Daniels is in a situation where he can truly grow. First, while he has just come out of a quarterback competition in camp, he doesn’t have a five-star junior like Max Browne breathing down his neck. Second, Daniels gets real game action and plenty of practice reps to work with the first team offense, luxuries not truly afforded to Darnold until Week 4 of his magical 2016 campaign. Lastly, Daniels is a true freshman. At the very least, he will have a full three years to work in the USC system, establish his play style, and, even, bring USC back to the level it was at heading into 2017.For now, Daniels and Helton are just worried about UNLV, and they’ll let the rest of their bright future together fall into place.Jimmy Goodman is a junior majoring in communication. His column, “The Point After,” runs every other Tuesday.
The Colts selected former Trojan receiver Michael Pittman Jr. in the second round of the NFL Draft Friday. (Sarah Ko / Daily Trojan) Pittman was the eighth wide receiver selected in this year’s draft. He doesn’t profile as one of the faster receivers in his draft class — he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash at the NFL Draft Combine — but he has been lauded by scouts and draft analysts for his hands, size and ability to make contested catches downfield. Scouts also view Pittman as a potential special teams contributor, a role which he occasionally played during his college career. Pittman is the 511th Trojan of all time to be drafted into the NFL, the most of any school in the nation. Pittman will be the newest target for potential Hall of Fame quarterback Philip Rivers, who signed with the Colts this offseason after a lengthy career with the Los Angeles (formerly San Diego) Chargers. “I just couldn’t be more happy that I get to start with a Hall of Fame quarterback,” Pittman said of Rivers. The Colts finished with a 7-9 record last season, third place in the AFC South, following the surprising retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck just a couple weeks before the season’s start. Pittman will look to help add to an Indianapolis offense that finished with the eighth-fewest total yards per game and the third-fewest passing yards per game last season. However, the Colts finished with 22.6 points per game last year, 16th in the NFL. Michael Pittman Jr. became the latest Trojan to join the NFL fraternity when the Indianapolis Colts selected the wide receiver with the 34th overall pick in the NFL Draft Friday. In 2019, Pittman proved himself to be one of the best receivers in the nation, finishing fourth in receptions and 10th in receiving yards en route to a nomination as a Biletnikoff Award finalist. He started all 13 games for the Trojans and was named to the All-Pac-12 First Team and AP All-American Second Team. “I am super excited to be a Colt,” Pittman said in a video posted to the Colts’ Twitter. “Let’s bring the juice.” “I was almost certain that I was gonna be a Colt today,” Pittman said. “You see the blue shirt? … Just based on the conversations that we had. I felt like we had a good connection and I just felt like it was the right fit … I think that they brought me in to impact right now.” Pittman also won the 2019 Pop Warner College Award, given to a senior who made an impact on the field, in the classroom and in the community. A team captain for USC, Pittman won USC’s MVP, Community Service Award and Lifters Award. “I feel like I try to be diverse in what I can do,” Pittman said. “I feel like I use my hands well. Being a bigger guy, people expect me to be physical and strong. So I have that, but I can also do all of the stuff that all of the smaller guys can.”