When USC hosts Washington State on Saturday evening, there is more than just the Trojans' conference record at stake. Head coach Lane Kiffin got away with not having a starter against Hawaii, but being coy about the new leader in Troy is not going to fly for much longer.
As it stands now, Cody Kessler will get the start against the Cougars, according to Fox Sports.
Kiffin had originally told the media in a press conference earlier in the week that he, the quarterbacks and the entire team knew who the starter would be, but that the public would have to wait until Saturday to find out.
Though it's being reported that Kessler will start, Kiffin maintains that both quarterbacks will play against Wazzu, much like against Hawaii. After this week though, he is going to have to bite the bullet and make a decision.
As much as Kiffin wants to make this a non-issue—and realistically, it is not the most pressing one the Trojans face, considering the uncertainty at cornerback—his refusal to name a starter continues to make it an issue.
If Hawaii showed us anything, it's that the old adage, "If you have two starting quarterbacks, you don't have one," proves to be especially true for USC.
In their 2013 debuts, neither Kessler nor Wittek showed enough to separate himself from the other. Kessler went 10-for-19 for 96 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Wittek on the other hand completed five of 10 passes for 77 yards.
Interestingly, Kiffin called very different plays when each had his turn leading the offense; Kessler only got short passing routes, while Wittek's plays were all over the place in terms of length.
That being said, Wittek looked better—despite opening his first two drives by getting sacked—as he was given more opportunity to show his skills. For whatever reason however, Kessler will again be the starter for week two.
It is essential for Kiffin to call the kind of plays that allow both of them to flourish in a similar manner. Neither have thrown very many balls in their college careers, but the one that displays the most poise and lack of nervousness in the pocket will likely win the job outright.
Though the running game should still dominate, Wittek and Kessler will need to use every single one of those passes to build confidence in their respective games.
As this is a conference game, it is of critical importance for the Trojans to have a strong showing. With it coming against Wazzu, they probably will, but the performance of the quarterbacks this week will have lasting implications.
Kiffin will have to put all his chips behind one of these young men, and that decision will ultimately shape the narrative of USC's season, as well as determine whether the seat underneath him continues to get hotter. If his choice does well, the flames will likely flicker out.
If his choice stumbles through the season, Kiffin very well could find himself cooked.