Spring battles: quarterback

Spring practice is just under a month away and the battle is about to begin to replace Matt Barkley as the Trojans quarterback...

For the first time since 2009 there is a quarterback battle at USC. The Trojans are losing senior Matt Barkley to graduation, opening the door for one of three candidates to take over his job.

USC head coach Lane Kiffin named redshirt freshman Max Wittek as Barkley's backup in 2012, but said (and repeated throughout the season) that decision would have no bearing on the quarterback battle for the 2013 season.

Max Wittek, RS sophomore
Max Wittek earned backup rights to Matt Barkley in 2012 and the job provided meaningful playing experience for the redshirt freshman. When Matt Barkley was announced unavailable after suffering a shoulder injury against UCLA, Wittek got the start in the Trojans home finale against No. 1 Notre Dame and then again on the road in the Sun Bowl facing Georgia Tech.

In the 22-13 loss to the Fighting Irish, Wittek finished 14-of-23 for 186 yards. He threw two picks and one touchdown in what looked to be a promising future as the Trojans signal caller.

With Barkley out, Wittek continued to take first team reps at the extra-month of bowl practices, earning him valuable time to develop chemistry with the Trojans arsenal of offensive weapons. Though he had strong practice performances, they did not translate over to Wittek's second start of his career.

Wittek completed only 14-of-37 pass attempts for 107 yards. He threw three interceptions and only one touchdown in the Trojans 21-7 loss in the Sun Bowl. It was a puzzling performance against Georgia Tech and it made little sense of after the promise he should against the country's top ranked team in the Coliseum. Wittek looked out of sorts, overthrowing his receivers by miles and throwing more often to Yellow Jackets than Trojans.

Wittek will need to prove during spring ball that he has moved on from the embarrassing loss on New Year's Eve, and that he possesses accuracy to go along with his monster arm strength.

Cody Kessler, RS sophomore
After being named Matt Barkley's backup his true-freshman season, Kessler was named the third-string quarterback in 2012.

He saw very limited reps after the break of fall camp and never saw meaningful playing time at quarterback, only taking snaps in a blowout win over Colorado.

Kessler's biggest boost of the year just might have been the dismal performance by Wittek in the Sun Bowl. Wittek was looking to close the door on his campaign to take over for the departing Barkley, but instead he left it wide open for Kessler.

Max Browne, freshman
True freshman Max Browne might be two seasons behind Wittek and Kessler when it comes to college experience, but Browne was the nation's No. 1 rated quarterback coming out of high school.

He led his Sammamish (Wash.) Skyline team to back-to-back state championships, shattering state records to become the state's all-time leader in passing yards and completions.

Kiffin has already said Browne will compete for the starting position right away. If he wants to win it, he'll have to play catch-up when it comes to learning the playbook.

It's not unreasonable to believe he could win the starting spot. After all, the two guys ahead of him really don't have much more experience.

My prediction: Max Wittek wins the starting job

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