USC's three-man quarterback race has been cut in third.
According to Lindsey Thiry of Fox Sports, Lane Kiffin announced that true freshman Max Browne has fallen out of the race while third-year sophomores Max Wittek and Cody Kessler will continue competing:
Kiffin finally announces the quarterback race is down to Kessler and Wittek. Browne is out of it. #usc— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) August 12, 2013
Browne was the No. 1 quarterback on 247Sports' composite this year, but his talent was always a long shot to overcome his inexperience. Even if Wittek and Kessler spent most of their careers backing up Matt Barkley, they're still two years ahead of Browne in this system. That's a lot of ground for a freshman to try to make up—and not a lot of time to do it.
Kiffin confirmed as much on Sunday when, according to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times:
Kiffin praised Browne — "He's probably as advanced as any guy that we've had this quick," Kiffin said — but added that Wittek and Kessler are currently more adept at handling college game speed.
Wittek is the presumed (and slight) favorite, if for no other reason than experience. He relieved Matt Barkley at the end of last season and showed flashes of upside in losses to Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.
But those flashes were few and far between. Most of his relief performance left a lot to be desired. He finished the final two games just 28-of-60 with 294 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions.
Kessler, meanwhile, has thrown just two passes in his career. He doesn't have the physical tools of Wittek (standing 6'1'' to his opponent's 6'3''), but he's plucky and is proving himself as a capable leader. He's also shown good form in camp, leading the first-team offense on a 70-yard scoring drive in its first scrimmage.
Kiffin hasn't announced a timetable for his decision, but by eliminating Browne, he has sharpened the focus on one of America's biggest derbies. Whoever wins the job will be standing on hallowed ground, apropos to starting at shortstop for the Yankees and tasked with leading a team that harbors massive expectations.
The Trojans start their season against Hawaii on Thursday, Aug. 29. In order to give the starter adequate time to prepare, Kiffin's decision might have to come pretty soon.
This weekend's announcement was a step in that direction.