After his vindicating arrival, what's next for USC quarterback Miller Moss?

Waiting in the Petco Park stands last December, Emily Kovner Moss’ anticipation for her son’s first start at USC was almost too much for her to bear. She knew better than anyone how long Miller had waited for this moment, the obstacles he’d overcome to get here, the resilience he’d shown along the way. Even still, everyone knew his hold on the Trojans quarterback job was tenuous. Options in the transfer portal were already being explored. The pressure on this first impression was especially immense.

Emily felt every bit of that weight as her son took the field that night. But Moss, from the start, seemed to float above it all, impervious to the stakes. He’d spent the weeks leading up sidestepping questions about the uncertainty, setting aside any shreds of self-doubt as best he could. He wanted to play loose and free, but of course, that was so much easier said than done. After so much time spent envisioning the moment, it was impossible, even for Moss, to ignore the sense the last three years were leading him here.

The culmination of that wait, as it turned out, was more vindicating than even his own mother could have imagined. Moss threw for six touchdowns and 372 yards in USC’s win over Louisville, shattering records and expectations in equal measure. The stunning showcase was enough to convince the Trojans’ wary fanbase and USC’s coach, Lincoln Riley, who called the next day to tell Moss he was no longer planning to add an older transfer quarterback.

Looking back on that night, Emily can’t help but still get a little choked up. It felt like a fairy tale.

“It was just pure joy,” Emily said this week. “Which is so rare, to feel that unmitigated joy. But that’s how that night felt.”

Four months later, the magic from that moment still feels fresh around USC. Moss remains on top of the Trojans’ quarterback depth chart, well ahead of Nevada Las Vegas transfer Jayden Maiava, and there’s no indication he should be looking over his shoulder after spring.

As his bowl game triumph fades into the rear view, Moss knows he can’t bask in the afterglow. As he takes the field Saturday for USC’s spring game, the question is no longer whether Moss is capable of being the Trojans’ quarterback, but what comes after the culmination? How do you follow the fairy tale?

But Moss, his mother says, isn’t one to get swept up in a feeling. He never has been.

“Do you know that poem, ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling?” she asks.

It’s always been one of her son’s favorites, Emily says. But one of its sentiments feels more fitting now than ever, given the highs and lows of his career at USC.

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,” she recites, “And treat those two impostors just the same.”

Moss has always had a sturdy sense of self. It’s why, in an era where the transfer quarterback carousel is constantly spinning, he chose to stay at USC, even as he was passed on the depth chart, first by Jaxson Dart in 2021, then Caleb Williams in 2022.

It’s that self-assurance that also led Moss to set aside his frustration after Riley passed him over for an injured Williams in the 2022 Pac-12 title game. At the time, the moment felt like a low point for Moss, but Riley assured the quarterback that he still believed in his potential. So Moss, confident enough in himself, chose to take the coach at his word.

In fact, he went one step further, setting out the next season to establish himself as an emotional leader in the locker room, even though Moss knew he’d be sitting behind Williams, the reigning Heisman winner.

The time and energy invested last fall has paid dividends so far this spring. USC’s young receivers rave about their chemistry with Moss, who threw them passes all last season in practice. Everyone continues to rave about his easy transition taking the reins from Williams, who’s likely to become the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft next week.

“We still have a lot of progress to make,” quarterbacks coach Luke Huard said of Moss, “but certainly his leadership and his ability to pour into his teammates shows every day, and they recognize that.”

Duce Robinson certainly does. “I don’t think you could ask for a better leader,” the sophomore receiver says.

The challenge now, as Riley sees it, isn’t so much Moss rising to the occasion as it is resisting the urge to do too much.

That process is made all the more complicated by the player he’s following. Where Williams was most magical when making something out of nothing, Moss is more of a tactician, reliant on his football IQ and his processing in the pocket to make an offense move.

“Every player has a style that fits them, and every player’s style is going to be a little bit different,” Riley said. “You want to improve within what you are, but you don’t want to try to be something maybe that you’re not. Every quarterback I’ve ever been involved with, you kind of hit that point, right? It’s like you’re getting better, you’re gaining confidence, you’re excited, and then you see sometimes guys get too far outside the framework of who they are as a player. At times you’ve got to rein it back in.”

In that sense, Moss is still figuring himself out. That process, he understands, is going to require some trial and error.

“It’s kind of interesting because you’re always saying, what am I not good at? Let’s improve on that,” Moss said. “But you obviously have to continue to improve on what makes you great.”

A storybook bowl performance certainly offered some glimpses of what that greatness might look like. But at USC, everyone understands that story is still being written.

“This isn’t someone who feels like, ‘Oh, I’ve arrived. I’m done,’” Emily, his mother, says. “He doesn’t operate like that.”

The work continues Saturday, when fans will finally get their second glimpse of USC’s new quarterback. Moss is likely to split reps with fellow quarterbacks Maiava and Jake Jensen, giving all three an equal shot at making an impression.

Maiava, who started 14 games last season at UNLV, actually has more collegiate game experience than Moss. But only one of USC’s trio of passers has spent years preparing to reach this point. And while Riley has yet to anoint Moss as his starting quarterback, it seems only a matter of time before it’s made official.

Even Moss, ever the stoic, has let himself wonder a bit this spring what that might look like.

“I’m excited to see what a team looks like when I’m able to really put my DNA on it,” Moss said. “Excited to see what we can become.”

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