His options were simple - or so it seemed. Redshirt freshman Cody Kessler, who was Barkley's backup just a season ago, or fellow redshirt freshman Max Wittek, who continued to show an undeniable upside during fall camp.
The choice, Kiffin says, was not easy. But he is going with Wittek. "We feel very confident about both guys," he said following practice on Tuesday. "They can both run our offense, really – there's not much difference at all between them and in the end, somebody had to be number two, so Max is number two."
It is an unfamiliar position for Wittek, who spent last season as the odd man out, losing the backup role to Kessler. It is, however, a position he is willing to get used to.
"I'm excited about the opportunity," Wittek said on Tuesday, after his first practice taking the lone backup reps. "Obviously I have to stay ready every game, stay ready every play, keep my head in the game and take advantage of my opportunities when they come."
Wittek found out he was named Barkley's backup Tuesday morning, just prior to practice, when Kiffin talked to both him and Kessler. "He just said we're going with you and stay ready," Wittek said.
Though he finally named a number two, Kiffin has played the backup quarterback situation rather close to the vest. Prompted to explain why Wittek was chosen as the backup and what about his game stood out, the head coach only offered analysis of how both Wittek and Kessler are equally capable of doing the job.
"It really was that they both commanded the offense really well," Kiffin explained. "They both made a bunch of plays, had good numbers throughout fall, and either could go in at any time and run our offense. We just had to figure out who could go in on the first play, if needed."
Wittek credits winning the No. 2 job to his growing confindence. He is spending more time in the film room and says he is turning up the dial on his mental game. Wittek also knows he has a strong physical upside, at 6-4 and 245 pounds.
Although he won the battle this time around, Wittek is also all too familiar with finishing third in a two horse race. "Cody's a great player," he said. "We both competed our hearts out every day. Like I said, I'm just excited for this opportunity." Kessler echoed a similar sentiment following his first practice as No. 3, having been on the other side of the situation in 2011. "Last year it was the other way around," Kessler said of winning the No. 2 spot a season ago, "and Max handled it well, when I was the backup last year."
As of Tuesday after practice, Wittek and Kessler had yet to talk to each other about the decision made by the coaching staff. Kessler says he is frustrated as a competitor by the decision, but says he will keep battling. "It makes you want work harder and keep fighting," Kessler said of the decision. "But I'm not going to let it get to me too bad."
Kessler also knows that even with a No. 2 being decided, there is still the possibility his name can be called on game days. "Coach even said that he planned to get both of us playing time this year, so I can't go around moping the whole time," he explained.
The naming of Wittek as the 2012 backup presents an interesting case. Both Kessler and Wittek are redshirt freshmen, both undoubtedly want to be the successor to Barkley. The competition to take over Troy will continue through the fall and will take on new meaning after Barkley completes his senior season. "This will have nothing to do with who is the starter next season," Kiffin said. "In the spring, the competition will be wide open, just like we said last fall."
Two redshirt freshmen. Each spending a year as the backup. Now, let the debate begin - who will spend the future as the No. 1?