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West Coast Wednesday | So it begins for USC QB Sam Darnold

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 02: USC (14) Sam Darnold (QB) celebrates the victory after receiving the offensive player of the game award at the conclusion of the Rose Bowl Game between the USC Trojans and the Penn State Nittanny Lions on January 2, 2017, at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, CA. USC defeated Penn State 52-49. (Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)
Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire

It was inevitable. A quarterback can’t be college football’s fastest rising star and potential No. 1 NFL Draft pick, as is the case for USC’s Sam Darnold, and avoid the silliness inherent in the role.

Speculation that NFL front offices may consider tanking their 2017 seasons has already started, based on … ???? … before pro training camps have even opened. The campaign slogan “Suck for Sam,” a retread of the “Suck for Luck” phrase that gained popularity during Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck’s 2011 season, is picking up steam.

It stands to reason, then, that the topic might come up. As he should, Darnold shot down the notion — which, at this juncture in the calendar year, is absurd. Pretty cut-and-dry, yes?

Apparently not.

One outlet — which WCW is opting not to call out, nor to link — presented Darnold’s logical downplaying of a ridiculous idea as posturing against the New York Jets. At least one of Darnold’s former teammates, Cleveland Browns rookie tight end Taylor McNamara, took the representation to task.

Buckle in, because this isn’t likely to be the last manufactured drama following college football’s new Mr. It.

Such is the folly of playing quarterback in a city where celebrity gossip thrives. Avoiding the Hollywood buzz and maintaining the laid-back cool that defines his hometown of San Clemente will keep Darnold, and USC, above the static.

Nothing in his career trajectory to this point suggests otherwise, either.

Darnold’s insertion into USC’s starting lineup four games into the 2016 season completely turned things around for the Trojans. After a 1-3 start, Darnold’s dual-threat playmaking provided the catalyst for a nine-game winning streak, culminating in winning Most Valuable Player of January’s Rose Bowl Game. There’s reason for the excitement around the USC quarterback, but also cause for restraint.

Darnold, a redshirt sophomore, has only 10 college starts to his name. He may not be the No. 1 overall pick after a full season captaining the USC offense — and no one understands that more than Sam Darnold himself. High-level football offers no guarantees, as evidenced in Darnold arriving at USC the lower-rated quarterback in the 2015 class; the top distinction belonged to Ricky Town, who is at Venture College after a brief transfer to Arkansas.

Likewise, Darnold initially lost the starting competition to former 5-star prospect Max Browne, the likely starter at Pittsburgh this coming season.

Don’t be shocked if Darnold stays out of this and other such messes in the months to come. Throughout his meteoric rise, Darnold has remained committed to the same approach that defied expectations.

“It’s awesome to have your name in the papers,” he said at December’s Rose Bowl media day, “but at the same time you don’t lose focus of the goals at hand.”

USC embarks on 2017 with a quarterback not focused on whom to block from Twitter — largely because he doesn’t have a Twitter account.

Where Have All The Quarterbacks Gone?

Josh Rosen (Photo by Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire)

In light of the above, is it any wonder UCLA head coach Jim Mora left quarterback Josh Rosen off the list of attendees at this month’s Pac-12 Media Days event?

Mora’s decision is a source of criticism — Rosen’s return from shoulder injury is intrinsically tied to Mora’s future, successful or otherwise — though it holds true to the coach’s approach since the 5-star recruit arrived at UCLA.

Rosen was barred from media appearances throughout his freshman season, the moratorium lifted only in the final week of the regular season. The quarterback spoke with reporters last year prior to his injury, and was as eloquent as he was outspoken.

Media on hand at Loews Hollywood Hotel two weeks from today will not be privy to Rosen’s insights on UCLA’s outlook for the season, nor his stance on player compensation. Representing the Bruins’ offense instead is offensive lineman Scott Quessenberry.

Rosen’s absence will loom large over Hollywood. Win or lose, it sets the tone for the Bruins’ season to come.

Garnering less chatter — but equally noteworthy in his absence — is Washington State quarterback Luke Falk. A possible first-round NFL Draft pick next spring, Falk will complete his Washington State tenure without a single Pac-12 Media Days appearance. Offensive lineman Joe Dahl repped the Cougars in 2015, and wide receiver Gabe Marks appeared last year.

Mike Leach’s inclusion of Marks last year suggests the Cougar head coach isn’t shying from controversy. Marks has not shied from discussing political and social matters throughout his football career, and was unrestrained in his candor last summer.

Whatever the reason, Falk is not on the lineup for Pac-12 Media Days. His absence leaves three quarterbacks in total on the two-day docket — and, oddly enough, two of the attending signal-callers are sophomores: Sam Darnold and Oregon’s Justin Herbert.

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