Lane Kiffin isn’t going to make his decision for his successor to Matt Barkley after USC’s spring game. No, that would be absurd.
There were 20 players absent from the modified scrimmage format Kiffin put in place. To skew things further, the coach enforced a no-contact rule that left many of the teams’ positional players with their hands tied.
The big highlights on Saturday were the quarterbacks, Marqise Lee and the woes of the team’s secondary.
Things would have been very different, though, with a full-contact and fully functioning pass rush and running game.
The conditions of the event make it hard to draw any real conclusions, but we can still break down the quarterback competition based on what we know.
How Did Each Potential Starter Fare on Saturday?
Max Wittek was effective but also showed signs of the struggles he displayed after being thrust into the lineup in relief of injured starter Matt Barkley last season. He completed 12 of his 27 passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, which have been holding him back from reaching up and taking the job.
Fellow sophomore Cody Kessler has been impressing throughout the spring and continued with a strong performance on Saturday. He hit on 15 of his 22 passes for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.
True freshman Max Browne—the No.1 QB recruit in the 2013 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.com—had limited opportunities but looked decent while completing seven of his 11 attempts. He threw one touchdown pass but also gave up a takeaway to round out his performance.
How Valuable is Game Experience?
Wittek’s brief stint of game experience in 2012 may be enough to help lift him over his peers in this competition. If no one distances himself from the signal-caller, Kiffin may revert to someone he has seen live—at least to begin the season.
Kessler has been around the program for going on three seasons and hasn’t been able to break through. Once things get live, the dynamic changes behind center, and he hasn’t proven he has the capability to perform in those situations.
Likewise, Browne has the least experience, both in the system and at the collegiate level.
Despite some struggles, Wittek has seen live action. He played under the lights of prime time and performed admirably against Notre Dame—one of the best defenses in the country. That experience, as well as his poor Sun Bowl showing, are learning experiences that will make him better next season.
Who’s It Going To Be?
From the looks of things, Cody Kessler is certainly making a solid case for himself. After a solid performance in spring practices, he really shined in Saturday’s spring game.
Kiffin seems committed to letting this thing ride itself out into the summer. You have to think that his approach favors Browne. The more time he waits to make his decision, the more the youngster can catch up to his peers.
Still, we think it will be ideal to redshirt Browne and let him learn for a year. That would afford him a great opportunity to learn Kiffin’s pro-style offense and come out in spring next year with a much better shot at taking command of the huddle from Day 1.
With Browne temporarily out of the picture, we see Wittek winning out over Kessler due to his command of the huddle, arm strength and game experience.