With Nathan Peterman heading to the NFL — there were serious questions about the Pitt QB position heading into the new season. Browne provides optimism, but what do we really know about the No. 2 quarterback prospect of the 2013 recruiting class?
3. Not Impressive at USC
For a variety of reasons, Browne never panned out as the savior USC was craving. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound passer was a highly-touted 5-star prospect coming out of Sammamish, Wash. but sat on the bench waiting patiently as Cody Kessler led the charge.
Browne was named the USC starter ahead of last season — but it became quickly evident he wasn't capable of leading the Trojans into College Football Playoff contention. He opened up with an absolutely brutal test against Alabama (the top defense in the country) and was unimpressive finishing the day 14-of-29 for 101 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. USC got blown out, 52-6. That's a brutal way to start your college football career.
In his second start, Browne bounced back at least a little bit against Utah State — a team that was clearly under-rmatched against the athletic, fast Trojans' roster. He finished the day 23-of-30 for 182 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
For the second-straight week, though, freshman Sam Darnold finished the game and went 5-of-7 for 62 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. It's obvious that Browne was always looking over his shoulder as the coaching staff began to notice they had something really special in Darnold.
In Week 3 — with another major test against No. 7 Stanford — Browne was once again about as average as it gets. He finished that game 18-of-28 for 191 yards and no touchdowns. Darnold had his number called late and that pretty much sealed Browne's fate at USC.
COMPARE: Sam Darnold vs. Max Browne in 2016
2. Game Manager?
It's almost insane to think a QB with that much hype and attention would be viewed as simply a game manager — but the USC coaching staff played it overly safe with Browne for whatever reason.
Pitt has named Max Browne their starting QB… here's a look back at his passing chart from his 2016 season at USC pic.twitter.com/u7N01irq8G
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) August 22, 2017
Just take a look at that passing chart put together by CFB Film Room. Really insightful stuff here. Browne seemed really comfortable with short, quick throws of 10 yards or less. He even found some success in the intermediate range, though not much.
The most eye-popping takeaway from that chart is Browne's struggle with the deep ball, connecting on just 3-of-14 of his attempts of 20 yards or more downfield (21.4 percent). Surprisingly, Browne was pretty darn good under pressure, going 14-of-26 for 155 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
I still think Browne is a lot more than a game manager — he was just playing under incredible pressure at USC with the young, talented, future first-round NFL QB looming in the background at all times. Browne came in to Pitt with a humbled mentality, worked his tail off and has earned this gig. We could see a much different QB than we saw for the Trojans.
1. A Calculated Decision by Narduzzi, Pitt
— PittPanthersFanatics (@PittFanaticsFB) April 16, 2017
This wasn't a case where Browne came in with his big-time high school reputation and was instantly awarded the starting job. Narduzzi and the Pitt coaching staff knew he had major struggles on a big stage — but still saw plenty of talent to bring him in.
For the last month or so, Browne has dueled it out with freshman Ben DiNucci in a two-way competition — but the former USC QB quietly went back to the basics — and emerged as the best option.
"It's a body over a consistent period of time," Pitt offensive coordinator Shawn Watson told panther-lair.com "So what tipped it is, just consistency of performance, probably. No 'probably,' that's what it was. You get to a point where you really feel Max just started to take off."
I don't expect Browne to come in and light it up like many thought he would coming out of high school — but I think we will see a solid, reliable QB who can surprise folks with big-play potential from time to time.