USC Trojans coach Lane Kiffin knew that he’d have a quarterback battle on his hands entering this season. But he didn’t quite expect the battle to last until the Trojans’ season opener against Hawaii.
Following a full offseason evaluation, Kiffin said that it was too close to call between Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. In fact, the USC coaching staff won’t even pick the nominal starter is until they arrive in Honolulu. So now both sophomores will receive significant playing time against the Rainbow Warriors.
“That really is how well both guys did,” Kiffin said after his decision. “For us, we look at it as a great thing. We’ve got two guys that we feel great about. We don’t feel like we have to limit our offense with either one of them in there. They’ve both done so well, made so many plays.
“It didn’t show itself that one guy was above the other guy, so we do it all the time with other positions. We’re not going to be stubborn and name a starter just because we’re supposed to, or that’s what we’ve done for 100 years, or whatever that is. We’ve got to do with all of our decisions what’s best for our team.”
When evaluating the quarterbacks, the general consensus is that Wittek has a stronger arm. Plus he has game experience, having started last season’s final two games when four-year starter Matt Barkley was injured. He finished the 2012 season with 388 passing yards, 3 TD’s, 5 INT’s and a 52.2% completion rate.
As for Kessler, he’s considered more mobile than Wittek and is a very resourceful player when plays break down. Kessler also played better in camp this month, which has pushed USC coaches to a high level of indecisiveness.
Playing two quarterbacks in the opener wasn’t the way that Kiffin wanted to start the 2013-14 college football season. So he set out to pick a starter between Wittek, Kessler and touted freshman Max Browne. The latter was taken out of the mix halfway through August’s camp, which left Kessler and Wittek fighting for the starting job.
Now, the most important position on the field is much like the rest of USC’s depth chart – full of spots where multiple players will play. Tailback and fullback are two other notable positions where duel starters have been named.
Kiffin will definitely be hoping that his depth can translate into more victories from the previous season. After a promising 6-1 start for the preseason number one-ranked team, they stumbled the rest of the year, losing five out of their last six contests.
In 2013, the Trojans open with a #24 ranking and a lot less pressure. They don’t play a preseason-ranked team until October 19th, when they travel to South Bend to face #14 Notre Dame. Other difficult ranked opponents include #25 Oregon State (away), #4 Stanford (home) and #21 UCLA (home).
How the quarterback situation plays out will go a long ways towards determining how the USC Trojans handle these opponents, and if they can get to a major bowl game.