LOS ANGELES (AP) - Cody Kessler is still Southern California's starting quarterback after holding off a challenge from freshman Max Browne during the Trojans' spring workouts.
New coach Steve Sarkisian confirmed Kessler's spot Tuesday night, saying the junior will start the Trojans' spring game at the Coliseum on Saturday.
''I think he has deserved it,'' Sarkisian told reporters after USC's penultimate practice of the spring. ''I think he has earned it. He has performed well. Sometimes when you get that sense of relief, you go out there and perform even better.
Kessler has picked up Sarkisian's offense with impressive speed, adjusting to an increased tempo and using his improvisational skills to create chances. His experience and decision-making skills tilted the competition in his favor, Sarkisian said.
His victory isn't permanent, however: The competition with freshmen Browne and Jalen Greene will continue in fall camp, Sarkisian said.
''That's the beauty of competition,'' Sarkisian said. ''But I'm confident to say I know we can go out and win a lot of football games with Cody Kessler as our quarterback. There's still plenty of room for him to grow within this system. He's still just 13 practices in, but I'm proud of all these guys. They've worked extremely hard.''
Kessler started all 14 games as a sophomore last season, passing for 2,968 yards with 20 touchdowns and seven interceptions while playing for three head coaches. He was the MVP of the Trojans' victory over Fresno State in the Las Vegas Bowl, passing for a career-high 345 yards and four TDs.
But Kessler didn't even win the full-time job until the third game of the season. Coach Lane Kiffin felt Kessler hadn't separated himself from Max Wittek, who also got playing time before Kiffin decided to stick with Kessler.
Kiffin was fired two games later, but Kessler kept the job under interim coaches Ed Orgeron and Clay Helton, who returned to Sarkisian's staff.
Browne redshirted last season, but much is expected from the nation's top high-school quarterback in 2012.
Sarkisian knows both quarterbacks well: He recruited Kessler and Browne to Washington when he was the Huskies' head coach, nearly landing Kessler before the quarterback from Bakersfield got a late scholarship offer from the Trojans. Browne is from the Seattle suburbs.
''I think Max is going to be a star,'' Sarkisian said.
Browne said he will never transfer from the Trojans, which means the quarterback competition at USC could be entertaining for the foreseeable future. Greene also has four years of eligibility left, and highly touted recruit Ricky Town has already committed to USC in the class of 2015.