Ever since Max Wittek and Cody Kessler stepped on campus two and a half years ago, it’s been just a matter of time until they were dueling for the role of succeeding USC football’s most prolific passer, Matt Barkley.
Initially, it looked as though the Southern California duo would tangle for the starting job in 2012. But Barkley’s senior season pushed the battle back to 2013, bringing forth a year that has been hotly contested between the two redshirt sophomores and remained cloudy by Lane Kiffin’s refusal to endorse either one.
Wittek is the guy with minimal and inconsistent experience, having played somewhat admirably against Notre Dame and rather poorly against Georgia Tech last year, in place of an injured Barkley. He’s got the physical tools that make scouts drool and undoubtedly has the higher ceiling, though he’s a true gunslinger, playing with reckless abandon at times. He’s the Carson Palmer.
On the other side of the coin, Kessler’s the cerebral game manager with pocket mobility, despite lacking a top-end NFL arm. He’s smart, reserved and calculated, but won’t drop your jaw with 65-yard howitzers. He’s the A.J. McCarron.
Throughout camp, Kessler has expanded on a spring campaign that saw him out-play an injured Wittek. During Friday’s second scrimmage of the fall, Kessler, who played with the second team offense against the second team defense, appeared to distance himself, going 19 of 28 for 231 yards and three touchdowns. Wittek, against a barrage of pressure from the first team defense, struggled mightily, completing just two passes for 15 yards on seven attempts, while failing to convert a first down.
But in Lane Kiffin’s camp, nothing appears as it seems, and the head coach was quick to scoff at Wittek’s statistical demise. Despite the struggles, Wittek continues to get first time playing time, while the red-hot Kessler out-paces with the twos, while USC still being without a true starter for the August 29th season opener vs. Hawaii.
One theory has been that Kiffin had long penciled in Wittek as the starter from the get go, which could explain the delay in the depth chart reveal, with Kessler seemingly forcing Kiffin and offensive coordinator Clay Helton to potentially re-access preconceived notions, thus parlaying a decision.
Alternatively, or perhaps concurrently, Kiffin could be opting to mask his decision on the quarterback situation until the media is locked out of practice beginning next weekend. At that point, Kiffin could easily stay mum until either Wittek or Kessler takes the first snap next Thursday night, as the working media will not have an opportunity to view any discrepancy in reps.
Nonetheless, USC is just 11 days away from kicking off Kiffin’s fourth year as USC’s head coach, in what happens to be the first in the post-Barkley era and likely the last of the Marqise Lee era. The Trojans need to have an appointed signal caller soon.
So, sit back, check USCFootball.com’s head-to-head stat breakdown and don Kiffin’s visor for a second. Who ya got?