February 23, 2024

Ja’Kobi Lane knows what time it is.

“Miller time!” the freshman receiver shouted on his way off USC’s Howard Jones Field on Friday.

Quarterback Miller Moss, meeting with reporters for the first time during USC’s bowl preparations, just chuckled.

After three years of waiting, Moss is getting his time in the spotlight. The redshirt sophomore is slated for his first career start at USC as the Trojans finish their season without star quarterback Caleb Williams in the Holiday Bowl against No. 15 Louisville on Dec. 27 in San Diego’s Petco Park. With his long-awaited starting opportunity finally approaching, Moss is showing the same even-keeled nature that won teammates over during his USC career spent mostly in the shadows.

“I’ve worked my whole life for this,” Moss said Friday. “Whatever comes after that, I’ll work my whole life for that. So I’m just excited. I’m excited to step into this role and very confident in our team.”

Moss’ opportunity could serve as his early audition to reprise the starting role at USC next year when the Trojans try to replace the Heisman Trophy winner. The competition will be tight. Moss has the advantage of experience in Lincoln Riley’s system but the former four-star prospect may lack the dual-threat ability Riley’s previous star quarterbacks displayed. Former five-star prospect Malachi Nelson will challenge for the starting role after battling injuries that slowed his freshman season. And a third competitor could emerge from the transfer portal as Riley said last week he will explore the available options.

The uncertainty doesn’t rattle Moss.

“Coach Riley has been very candid and open with me,” Moss said of the possibility of a transfer quarterback coming to USC. “I’ve been competing my whole life. So let’s go.”

The Bishop Alemany alumnus committed to USC, his childhood team, over offers from Alabama, Louisiana State and UCLA even though the Trojans already held a commitment from quarterback Jake Garcia in the same class. When USC offered 2020 Gatorade national player of the year Jaxson Dart and Garcia decommitted, Miller held firm.

Dart beat out Moss for the backup role in 2021 and stepped into the starting role amid an injury-plagued year from Kedon Slovis. But when Dart was injured against California, Moss earned his first significant snaps in college, throwing for 74 yards and a touchdown in USC’s 24-21 loss.

USC quarterbacks Caleb Williams (13) and Miller Moss warm up during practice in August 2022.

USC quarterbacks Caleb Williams (13) and Miller Moss warm up during practice in August 2022.

(Michael Owen Baker / For The Times)

Two years later with Moss preparing for his first start, senior center Justin Dedich said the difference between the wide-eyed freshman backup and the third-year player at the center of the huddle now is “night and day.”

“Miller’s been growing a lot as a leader,” Dedich said. “He’s been phenomenal, everyone respects him on the team and it’s just someone I respect too.”

Moss’ leadership has only gotten stronger during USC’s bowl practices without Williams, running back Austin Jones said. But after watching Moss prepare diligently for every game for the past two seasons, nothing surprises the Stanford transfer about the quarterback’s steady approach to training even as the stage grows.

“Miller’s a baller,” Jones said.

“Miller’s a really good quarterback and you’re going to get an opportunity to see that,” the senior continued. “There’s nothing that’s going to faze him in the game.”

While Moss said he always approached film sessions and meetings as if he were going to start, the main difference between preparation now is that he can offer more input about what’s included in the game plan, he said. That role used to belong to Williams.

Moss has thrown for 309 yards and one touchdown this season, completing 23 of 32 passes. He has two carries, both for touchdowns, for 19 total yards in three blowout wins over San José State, Nevada and Stanford.

But as the Trojans struggled for much of the season, limping to a 7-5 record while losing five of their last six games, Moss shrunk back onto the sidelines. Riley said he had hoped for more opportunities to get Moss into the games. But Moss’ work on the practice field has teammates confident in the quarterback’s ability to end the disappointing year on a high note.

“Everybody who’s been here that I care about is within these walls, and they see it every day,” Moss said. “I’m just going to go out there and try to lead my team the best way I can and get a win.”

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