Kessler gets nod to backup Barkley

USC head coach Lane Kiffin names Cody Kessler as No. 2 quarterback, but expresses confidence in Max Wittek as well.

LOS ANGELES – Chocolate or vanilla ice cream? The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? The Godfather or Godfather, Part 2?

Sometimes the decision is easier when the choices aren't so even. That's the quandary USC head coach Lane Kiffin was facing picking a backup quarterback.

Freshmen Cody Kessler and Max Wittek have been so impressive during fall that Kiffin couldn't be faulted for siding with either one, but choose he did Wednesday, naming Kessler as the No. 2 behind junior Matt Barkley.

Kind of.

"We have headed down that direction," Kiffin said of making Kessler the backup. "This was not a big competition that Cody won necessarily. It's just what we went with, to give him the two snaps."

While Kessler had an advantage coming out of spring, the gap between the two early enrollees narrowed, especially after redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins injured his thumb, taking him out of the competition.

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Kessler excelled in almost every pressure situation he faced in fall camp, completing 72 percent of his throws for 501 yards and six touchdowns against three interceptions in three scrimmages, while Wittek threw for fewer yards and a lower completion percentage but had a better touchdown to interception ratio.

Wittek, who starred at Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei and was tutored by private quarterbacks coach Steve Clarkson, is the quintessential polished, big-armed pocket passer in the mold of Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez.

Kessler has a quirky throwing motion, is more mobile, less obviously physically gifted and regarded by the coaching staff as the kind of player that blows you away in games, not practices.

"I know it's abnormal to hear, but it really is not a reflection on their play. They both played so well. It could be either of them," Kiffin said.

In a perfect world, Kiffin said, neither Kessler nor Wittek plays this season, allowing both to retain all four years of eligibility.

"Ideally, we'd love to redshirt both of them," Kiffin said. "There's just all kinds of scenarios that can pop up that we're ready for and have different answers for.

"Ideally, the best one, is to keep the No. 1 guy healthy and hopefully win some games and let (walk-on redshirt junior John) Manoogian hand the ball off at the end and keep them both redshirted."

And the competition begins all over again when Barkley leaves for the NFL at the end of this season or exhausts his eligibility after the 2012 campaign.

"Regardless of whether he (Kessler) was to play as a two, good bad or indifferent, whenever Matt leaves, the competition will be wide open," Kiffin said. "We'll start over, because we have great confidence in both of them." Top Stories