Max Wittek became USC’s unwitting Trojan under fire when four-year man Matt Barkley went down with a sprained shoulder. The redshirt freshman’s first career start came in the team’s season finale against then-No. 1-ranked Notre Dame and then-highly respected linebacker, Manti Te’o.
Times have changed drastically for all parties. We all know the Te’o fiasco, but where Wittek may have found himself thrust into the starting role without much of a decision in the matter, he will have to work a lot harder to remain there.
In fact, Wittek is not even there. Despite starting against Notre Dame and the Trojans’ Sun Bowl loss to Georgia Tech, he finds himself in a three-person battle for the job along with fellow soon-to-be redshirt sophomore Cody Kessler and incoming freshman Max Browne. Kessler was the third-stringer a year ago, and became best known for being instructed by coach Lane Kiffin to change jersey numbers at halftime. For him, hopes of starting springs eternal.
“It’s wide open,” Kessler told Fox Sports West.
With Spring practices having just kicked off on campus, Kiffin is in no hurry to make a decision on who his starter will be, either.
”We’ve got to find the right guy,” he said, “and when we find that out, when it shows itself, then we’ll decide.”
These first few practices open up the team’s first full-blown quarterback battle since 2009, when Barkley was a freshman. The five-star recruit beat out Aaron Corp and Mitch Mustain for the starter’s role, becoming the first true freshman to ever start a season opener for the Trojans.
The same may just play out this year, if highly-touted recruit Max Browne can impress over and beyond what Wittek and Kessler do during Spring and Summer workouts. He played mostly out of the shotgun formation in high school, and he said there will be a learning curve moving to a more pro-style approach that necessitates working from under center.
“The footwork is not totally new,” he said, “but as far as getting under there, that’s something I’ve got to get used to quickly.”
If he does, he may just be able to supplant Wittek and the oncoming Kessler. However, the man with all the eyes on him, Wittek, believes his in-game experience will eventually win the day, and the job.
“Any time you can get experience,” he said, “it’s a good thing — good or bad.”
Unfortunatley for Kiffin, his staff, and the entirety of an increasingly impatient Trojans Nation, there is only one way to find out if that experience really will be a factor for Wittek, or whether or not Kessler or Browne can take over the starring role in Hollywood.
Wait and see.