USC Football: Predicting the Winners of Key Spring Position Battles

Ross Dautel@@RossDautelContributor IIIApril 19, 2012

USC Football: Predicting the Winners of Key Spring Position Battles

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    Following the spring game, Lane Kiffin released USC's two-deep post-spring depth chart with few noticeable surprises.

    Many of the position battles that took place during the spring are still up for grabs as the Trojans break for summer.

    Despite the fact that these battles are still ongoing, there were certain players this spring who outperformed their competition and put themselves in great position to move up the depth chart come fall.

    With that in mind, let's examine some of USC's hotly contested position battles and predict a winner at each spot...

Backup Quarterback

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    Max Wittek and Cody Kessler left the spring the same way they entered it—tied for the backup-quarterback duties. Both of these young signal-callers received a number of reps throughout the spring while Matt Barkley took a back seat.

    While both experienced growing pains as many young players too, Wittek and Kessler also demonstrated great command of the playbook and of the offense.

    Both quarterbacks had a decent showing at the spring game on Saturday, but the wind and the uptempo atmosphere caused Wittek to overthrow a number of his receivers and Kessler to toss an ill-advised interception to Drew McAllister.

    Kessler and Wittek are handling the process well by saying all the right things, but at the end of the day, only one can be chosen as the backup.

    Kessler took home that honor last year, but Wittek's arm strength, pocket presence and rapport with the receivers could very well put him over the top come fall.

    While this race is still close to call, I'll go ahead and side with the stronger-armed Wittek to secure the backup duties when fall rolls around.

    Winner of the Backup Quarterback Battle: Max Wittek


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    One of USC's two cornerback spots is already locked up with All-Pac-12 first teamer Nickell Robey back in the fold. The race for the other, however, is still wide open, and there are quite a few capable defensive backs vying for the final spot.

    Among those in the hunt are Isiah Wiley, Brian Baucham and Torin Harris—a trio of upperclassmen who are listed as co-starters on the post-spring depth chart.

    It was Wiley who stepped up a year ago by starting the last six games of the season and performing well in each of them.

    Baucham has had a tumultuous Trojan career, but after sorting out his academic issues following a year of ineligibility, the fifth-year senior appears to be refocused on making an impact in the secondary.

    Harris missed spring practices with a lingering shoulder injury, but he was the player who rose to the top a year ago and secured the starting job prior to the season opener.

    This is another race that will likely go right down to the wire seeing as all three candidates are all capable starters. But, with Harris' injury status still in question and Baucham still shaking off the rust from a year off, Wiley should be given the nod.

    The senior has big-game, starting experience, and while Baucham and Harris will deservedly receive their reps, it should be Wiley who shoulders the majority of the burden.

    Winner of the Second Cornerback Battle: Isiah Wiley

Third Wide Receiver

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    USC's seemingly deep wide receiver corp was thin for much of the spring with Robert Woods sitting out of all practices due to ankle surgery and Marqise Lee missing time thanks to his role with the track and field team.

    Their absence opened the door for other wideouts to step up and earn the all-important third wide receiver spot. Despite solid performances, De'Von Flournoy, George Farmer and Victor Blackwell all failed to separate themselves from the pack, which means this position battle will continue on into the fall.

    We'll start with Farmer who, in my opinion, would have this spot locked up if not for injuries that limited his production throughout the spring.

    Farmer, yet another Serra High School star, has tremendous big-play ability. The sophomore's game-breaking speed would make him an excellent downfield threat for Matt Barkley this season, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy during his short USC career.

    Flournoy, a redshirt junior, has yet to make an impact in his career as a Trojan, but that changed during the spring. The former Birmingham High School standout was a monster of a target for USC quarterbacks throughout the spring. His ability to run solid routes and create separation has led to a number of receptions this spring.

    Blackwell is another player in the mix thanks to a productive spring, but doesn't have as much experience as some of the other receivers he's competing against.

    The edge at this point has to go to Flournoy who has been in the system longer than the other two competitors. While all three receivers showed flashes in spring workouts, it was Flournoy who impressed the most, and he should be a high-impact player for much of 2012.

    Winner of Third Wide Receiver Battle: De'Von Flournoy

Strong Safety

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    All-American T.J. McDonald has a stranglehold on the free-safety position, but there are still questions surrounding the two candidates at strong safety in Jawanza Starling and Demetrius Wright.

    Wright assumed the backup duties in 2011 while Starling started 11 games and performed well in the majority of them.

    There was buzz around USC spring workouts that Wright would supplant Starling as the starting strong safety, and he even played with the first-team defense as practices began to wind down.

    However, when the spring game rolled around, it was Starling who lined up alongside McDonald in the secondary.

    Wright has come a long way since he arrived at Troy, and the fact that he is even in the discussion for a starting safety spot is a direct testament to his work ethic and drive to succeed.

    At the end of the day, it's going to be hard for Monte Kiffin and defensive backs coach Marvin Sanders to shy away from Starling—the incumbent at the position.

    With 20 career starts under his belt, Starling is clearly the more experienced of the two players, and that should put him over the top by the time the first game rolls around.

    Winner of the Starting Strong Safety Spot: Jawanza Starling