News came out on Sunday night that Matt Barkley’s shoulder injury on a hit from UCLA’s Anthony Barr would keep him out of the upcoming game against the No. 1 ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As a result, USC’s backup quarterback Max Wittek not only gets the call, but looks to make history and win in his first career start while derailing a national championship season.
It’s the second time that Manti Te’o and company won’t get a chance to face Barkley at the Coliseum, with USC losing in the rain to Notre Dame in 2010 with backup quarterback Mitch Mustain at the helm. For Wittek however, he’ll inherit an offense that is much better than the team Mustain had to lead, with Marqise Lee and Robert Woods, in addition to Curtis McNeal who has twice rushed for more than 160 yards in November.
But having weapons to play with isn’t the biggest benefit of playing against Notre Dame for Wittek, it’s the severity of Barkley’s injury which makes him questionable for the bowl game and will allow Wittek to have what could be more than a month of first team reps.
With how hotly contested the battle to replace Barkley should be come spring ball, Wittek’s opportunity to distance himself from Cody Kessler is enormous, plus with a Pac-12 title and a national title long gone, it’s the best scenario for the Trojans’ future.
Lane Kiffin needs to see how Wittek can respond to game situations and getting a jump start on the post-Barkley era should give Kiffin plenty of film and practice time to decide where to rank Wittek, Kessler and Max Browne come March.
Also, since Wittek has the strongest arm of the bunch and the highest ceiling, he’s the best candidate for the interim quarterback role as he’s more of an uncertainty than Kessler, relatively speaking. Kessler is the more polished in-game manager with fewer physical tools. He’s the guy the kind of guy that has more of a chance to duplicate practice field success on the gridiron, while Wittek has more of an opportunity to bring some ‘wow’ factor to the pocket, while staying true to his high-risk, high-reward scouting report.
It’s Ryan Mallet vs. John David Booty. It’s physicality vs. safety, and right now, with nothing to lose, there’s way more to gain with Wittek at the helm than Kessler. That makes Wittek’s every snap as a first team quarterback that much more critical to his candidacy to be the starter come August 29th in Honolulu.