LOS ANGELES—The question had to be asked at the first day of USC's fall practice on Saturday. Because in the back of every Trojan fan's mind, it lingers.
Would redshirt sophomore Max Wittek consider transferring if he was not named the starting quarterback?
Wittek answered with a non-answer. He said he would "cross that bridge" when he got to it.
Quarterback Cody Kessler was more to the point. He was not going anywhere, according to The Orange County Register's Rich Hammond:
Kessler emphatically said he would not transfer if he lost the QB derby. Wittek sort of politely punted the same question— Rich Hammond (@RegisterUSC) August 4, 2013
Head football coach Lane Kiffin's decision on whom to start—Kessler, Wittek or true freshman Max Browne—may have serious repercussions. Kiffin could lose Wittek, a 5-star QB, if he starts Kessler or Browne. So does Kiffin name Wittek the starter if all three are even on the depth chart?
A head coach should name the best quarterback as his starter. If a true freshman is the best choice, he should start, even if the redshirt sophomore also in the running was a highly touted prospect. On this topic, most coaches have the same mindset: The best players play.
Oklahoma State lost quarterback Wes Lunt when he decided to transfer to Illinois. Cowboy head football coach Mike Gundy probably knew this would happen. Players are opting to transfer if they are not named as a starter. The stakes get higher with more elite players on the roster. A former 5-star prospect will take his talents somewhere else if he is not the No. 1 guy.
Wittek did not say he would transfer if he was not named the starter. He also did not rule out transferring. It was an awkward moment for Wittek, as his reply created more questions than answers.
USC has three scholarshipped quarterbacks on its roster. Losing one could be devastating. The quarterback depth is extremely talented, but it is thin and inexperienced. Last season Wittek started against Notre Dame in the regular season and Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. USC lost both games.
Wittek had a very good performance against Notre Dame but struggled against Georgia Tech. To be fair to Wittek, the entire team performed poorly in the Sun Bowl—he should not get all the blame. But his floating passes caused his projected starting role in 2013 to be questioned.
If Kessler is named the starting quarterback—he had a great spring camp—Wittek may transfer. True freshman Browne would be the lone reserve quarterback. That is not an ideal situation for USC. Nor for any team.
Kiffin knows his decision is critical. He also knows USC fans want to see improvement this year. He must be under enormous pressure.
Kiffin should start the quarterback who has shown the most consistency and best leadership qualities. His decision should be made without regard to the possibility of a player transferring. To win the big games, a coach has to play his best players.
He should let the chips fall where they may.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted