PITTSBURGH — Max Browne’s cross-country gamble paid off.
The former Southern Cal quarterback will be the starter when Pittsburgh opens the 2017 season against Youngstown State on Sept. 2, earning the job over Ben Dinucci following a battle through spring drills and training camp.
“Ben has done an incredible job,” coach Pat Narduzzi said Tuesday. “Max, we feel like, can win a little faster for us right now.”
Browne arrived in Pittsburgh over the winter after spending four years with the Trojans. He began the 2016 season as the starter for USC but lost the starting job to Sam Darnold following a loss to Stanford in mid-September. A year later, Browne is again atop the depth chart, hoping this stay will be longer than the last.
“It’s not like anything was handed to me,” Browne said. “I had to go out there and earn it.”
Browne is the third graduate transfer quarterback to start for Pitt in the last four years, following Tom Savage and Nate Peterman. Both are currently in the NFL. Savage tweeted out congratulations to Browne shortly after the decision was made, and Browne is hardly worried that his eight-month crash course with the Panthers will be an issue when he lines up under center at Heinz Field in less than two weeks.
“I’ve been around a while,” Browne said. “I’ve been in some real stressful scenarios, competitions, battles, big-time games, all of that. It’s probably my personality, but you also, after a while, realize that getting rattled doesn’t do anything for you.”
Browne arrived at USC as a five-star recruit in 2013 but spent four seasons struggling to live up to the expectations. He was redshirted in 2013 and threw just 19 passes combined in 2014 and 2015. He was tapped as the starter for the Trojans coming out of camp last fall but was benched in favor of Darnold after USC managed just six and 10 points respectively in losses to Alabama and Stanford.
Those days are behind him. Browne admits he’s playing with a chip on his shoulder, and the Panthers will need some of that fire if they want to keep pace in the wide-open ACC Coastal Division.
“I do think the best football for me is ahead,” Browne said. “Hopefully you can tell me that in a couple months.”
Browne will be directing an offense that will rely heavily on the running game. That’s fine by Browne. He didn’t come to Pitt to put up numbers that will catch the attention of NFL scouts. He’s OK just making sure the ball gets where it needs to go when it needs to get there. It’s a style that carried Peterman all the way to the Buffalo Bills.
Peterman proved to be a steady hand at Pitt, and it’s those same attributes that helped Browne win the starting gig.
“(Browne) was very, very consistent,” offensive coordinator Shawn Watson said. “He was very consistent in his decision-making in every aspect of football — managing it, passing game, etc. And because of his performance, the team started to believe in him.”