Spring Review: Quarterbacks

For all the ridicule directed at former coach Pete Carroll for referring to Barkley as an "outlier," he may have been right on the mark.

Post-Spring Depth Chart
1. Matt Barkley
2. Jesse Scroggins OR Max Wittek OR Cody Kessler

Projected Post-Fall Camp Depth Chart
1. Matt Barkley
2. Jesse Scroggins
3. Cody Kessler
4. Max Wittek

Three Questions Answered in the Spring

1. Barkley can lead; now can he follow through?

As much as coach Lane Kiffin loves his storylines, quarterback Matt Barkley has his goals, not that he has made them public yet.

Kiffin has talked about improving his touchdown to interception ratio once again, looking for a 3:1 mark, and better play in the fourth quarter. Assistant coach Clay Helton wants better decision-making and completion percentage.

One has already been met. This is Barkley's team now. He became a confident and vocal leader this spring, starting with the voluntary throwing sessions he organized and ran, all the way through the 15 official practices. He demanded more accountability from teammates and himself.

And don't be fooled by how Barkley performed in the spring game (22 of 42, 212 yards, 2 interceptions) or his much-dissected snapping at a walk-on, those were products of a decimated receiving corps. But it did expose his continued tendencies to force the ball.

There were way too many interceptions this spring, troubling even against an improving Trojan defense.

Barkley is, pardon the cliché, a gunslinger. He'll throw three balls per game that make everyone crazy. Cut that by half, take the interceptions into single digits and USC will be back among the elite.

2. Scroggins takes a step forward

It was a bit of a surprise to see Jesse Scroggins listed alongside the two newcomers at the end of spring when Kiffin was so effusive in his praise for the redshirt freshman.

Maybe it was the 6-for-15 performance in the spring game, maybe it is just Kiffin's way of keeping Scroggins motivated, but he is clearly the backup to Barkley at this point.

The bigger question might be what sort of game plan coaches would install for Scroggins if he had to start. In the loss to Notre Dame last season, Mitch Mustain wasn't allowed to attack vertically despite the Irish's struggles in the secondary. When he was, Ronald Johnson dropped what would have been a legendary game-winner.

What if Mustain had been given a few more chances?

Kiffin always spoke of how the offense would not change if he had to play, but that wasn't the case when it actually happened. USC got so conservative they played into Notre Dame's hands, allowing them to basically steal a win and end the eight-game streak.

Given Scroggins' inexperience – his next collegiate snap will be the first – would the Trojans get even more conservative that they did with the veteran Mustain?

3. Wittek and Kessler can be special, but need time

Call it the fantasy football player's dilemma, where two players with complimentary skill sets compete for – and therefore negate – each other's value. If only there was some way to combine them.

That's certainly the case with the two early enrollee quarterbacks, Kessler the more natural leader, easygoing and likable with a touch of the charisma that made Mark Sanchez so effective, while Wittek has better physical tools and the precise mechanics expected from a Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei signal caller.

Wittek seemed overwhelmed during the spring, dropping to the back of the pack, and is the more likely of the two to redshirt this season. He will have the summer to catch up though.

Kessler, however, could be in the mix to play if Barkley were to suffer a significant injury given how quickly he picked up the offense. Still, the preference would be to redshirt both and restart the competition next year.

The single biggest takeaway after watching both Kessler and Wittek was the appreciation for how special Barkley was in his first spring to be so poised and effective given the magnitude of the situation.

For all the ridicule directed at former coach Pete Carroll for referring to Barkley as an "outlier," he may have been right on the mark.


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