As one door opens for 2015 quarterback Ricky Town, another door closes for current Trojan quarterback Max Wittek.
According to Gary Klein of the Los Angeles Times, Wittek has informed Steve Sarkisian and the coaching staff that he will forgo the spring ball competition, graduate from USC at the end of the semester and transfer to another program.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, he would be immediately eligible as college graduates do not have to sit out a year. Wittek is a redshirt junior and would have two years of eligibility remaining.
Wittek's decision to transfer comes as no surprise. After a successful starting campaign from fellow redshirt junior Cody Kessler, Wittek's odds of taking over the starting job seemed slim. Sarkisian has maintained that all positions are open come spring ball, and with freshman Max Browne—who has the high school credentials to be the future of USC football—waiting in the wings, Wittek would have really been fighting an uphill battle.
Sarkisian wants to add spread elements to USC's offense, and it needs a quarterback who can be fluid in the pocket and under pressure. Wittek undoubtedly had a cannon for an arm, but he's incredibly stiff in the pocket and his technique left much to be desired.
While things at USC didn't work out for Wittek, they suddenly look a lot better for Browne.
With one less person to compete against, the freshman could split reps evenly with the incumbent Kessler during the spring. Given more opportunities to show what he can do, Browne has a real chance to dethrone Kessler as the starter.
Kessler has the advantage of a year's worth of starting experience, while Browne doesn't have any. The upperclassman has proven to be a reliable pocket passer for the Trojans and even showed that he can make decisions on the fly when need be. We really saw Kessler evolve as a quarterback over the course of one year; him keeping the job would go a long way in maintaining continuity.
Then again, Sarkisian is all about making positive changes at USC for the better.
Back in December when Sarkisian got hired, Browne spoke with Klein about the system change:
Freshman quarterback Max Browne said the new offense was similar to the one he ran at Skyline High in Sammamish, Wash., where he operated almost exclusively from the shotgun and pistol formations.
"I think it suits me and all of the quarterbacks," Browne said.
For that reason, Browne could prove to be the better fit for what Sarkisian is looking for. And that would be saying a lot, considering how well Kessler performed in 2013.
In high school, Browne passed for 12, 947 yards, threw 146 touchdowns, averaged 253.9 yards per game and completed 70 percent of his passes throughout a four-year career as a starter. he did all of that in a spread offense, and it stands to reason that he could do something similar to that at the helm for USC.
Granted, the college ranks are at an entirely different level than that of high school, and he will be more in a pro-style than a true spread under Sarksian. But he has the experience and the chops to lead a versatile offense. That's something that Sarkisian is looking for this spring.
Filling the role that Browne filled this season will be midyear enrollee Jalen Greene. It's likely that he will spend 2014 learning the system and getting bigger, but having the opportunity to actually get involved in the spring ball competition will be good for him as well.
Barring injury, this high-stakes battle to be QB will keep all eyes on USC this spring. How "open" the competition truly is remains to be seen, but if it's as real as advertised, Sarkisian's next task as the head coach in Troy will arguably be his most important one yet.
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