LOS ANGELES (AP) — Freshman J.T. Daniels has won the competition to start at quarterback for No. 15 Southern California.

Coach Clay Helton announced his decision in a news release Sunday night, ending the 3 1/2-week audition for three strong contenders to be the successor to Sam Darnold.

When he takes the Coliseum field against UNLV on Saturday, the 18-year-old Daniels will be the first true freshman to start at quarterback for USC since Matt Barkley in 2009. Only three true freshmen have ever started a game at quarterback for the Trojans: Barkley, Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer (1998) and Rob Johnson (1991).

"I am honored that Coach Helton picked me as the starter," Daniels said in a statement released by the school, which hasn't allowed freshmen to speak to the media during camp. "I understand this it is a huge responsibility and I need to work hard to be prepared to handle it. It was a tight competition between all the quarterbacks throughout camp. We pushed each other every day. I felt that Coach's decision wouldn't be wrong whoever he picked."

Daniels is a passing prodigy who was named the 2017-18 Gatorade Male High School Athlete of the Year and the 2017 Gatorade National Football Player of the Year at Mater Dei High School in Orange County. He then graduated one full year early to enroll at USC this fall, likely sensing the chance to contend for the starting job immediately.

He looked sharp from the start of his fall camp competition with redshirt freshman Jack Sears and sophomore Matt Fink, who both had marginally more experience in the Trojans' offense.

"At the completion of camp, it became clear to me and our staff that JT had taken a step ahead of Matt, Jack and (walk-on sophomore) Holden (Thomas)," Helton said in a statement. I thought the quarterback competition was very competitive and fair and I am satisfied with how our staff handled the process. We look forward to each young man continuing to grow and progress at the position and we are very fortunate to have each one here at USC."

Helton didn't formally make his decision until watching a mock game Saturday in which all three quarterbacks got a chance to impress the coaches. Helton then said he planned to speak to the families of all three quarterbacks before announcing his decision.

"I reminded each (quarterback) that they need to keep pushing to be ready to play when called upon," Helton said. "After this camp, we have no doubt that each one can lead our team when asked to do so. All are eager to keep working hard."

Fink is the only candidate with any collegiate playing experience, making three brief appearances last season. Sears was Darnold's successor at San Clemente High School, and he redshirted last season behind Darnold.

Daniels won't get an easy path in his first September at the controls of USC's offense. After the Trojans open at home against the capable Rebels, they'll make consecutive road trips to No. 13 Stanford and No. 23 Texas.

He also has big cleats to fill after the departure of Darnold, who won a Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 championship in his two seasons in charge. Darnold then was the third overall pick in the NFL draft by the New York Jets, and he has a strong chance to be their opening week starter after an excellent preseason.

Helton also released his opening-week depth chart for the Trojans on Sunday night, with Fink listed as Daniels' backup. Sophomore Austin Jackson will start at left tackle, and Bubba Bolden was picked as a starting safety alongside veteran Marvell Tell.

Helton's depth chart didn't identify a starting tailback, listing Aca'Cedric Ware, Vavae Malepeai and Stephen Carr as co-first stringers.

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