Wittek may have won the backup role in 2012 over teammate Cody Kessler, but I don't think Wittek won spring. It wasn't from a lack of performance on his part, he looks better than the average redshirt sophomore quarterback. The thing is, his competition just looked better. Through last fall and this spring, one consistency remains about Wittek's practice performances -- and even into the scrimmages. His first series of passes is usually a bit off -- often times over throwing his receivers by about a foot out of their leap. No doubt, Wittek shows a lot of promise with his cannon of an arm when it comes to making the big plays downfield, but he doesn't seem to be as consistent as Kessler when it comes to making the routine completion. Despite this and based of atmosphere of practices, Wittek still feels like the QB the head coach wants to go with… his competition perhaps the player that should be at quarterback. By no means am I saying Wittek is a bad choice. Kessler just seems like the better choice at the time.
The 2012 third-team quarterback didn't let his seemingly left-out status during the season dissuade him from putting every effort into this springs competition. Kessler was emphatic during multiple interviews that he believed the slate was clean going into the spring, meaning Kiffin wasn't going to allow any of Wittek's positive -- or negative -- playing experience weigh in the decision this spring. Kessler showed consistency throughout the 15 practices -- both in completing the deep passes and well as the short throws. His arm strength isn't Wittek's, but Kessler seemed to prove that it doesn't need to be because of his accuracy and ability to place the ball where it needs to be. Yes, he's considered "small" at 6-foot-1, Kiffin even re-itereated that during his post-spring phone conference, but what does being relatively small at quarterback mean anymore? If he is able to the job and do it consistently well, shouldn't that be enough? I'd like to think after watching Kessler all spring that his stock went up, that he has well positioned himself to be named the starter in the fall. Though Kiffin said both he and Wittek did very well in the spring game, it must be noted that Wittek's first three series resulted in turning the ball over: first on downs, then two interceptions (though to Wittek's credit, the second interception was a tipped pass.). I'm not saying Wittek was a turnover machine during spring drills – he wasn't. But it goes to backup that it takes him a bit longer to find his groove, to get in a rhythm. Kessler's first two series resulted in touchdowns, his third a turnover on downs. That sample seems to fit his entire spring performace. The race certainly is close… but if you have to name a starter and leave out the "OR", based on spring performances… it has to be Kessler.
The early enrollee freshman is listed as an "OR" with his redshirt sophomore counterparts, but I don't this he's really in the race. Browne came to USC in January as Scout.com's No. 1 rated quarterback nationally, a five-star recruit, and the Gatorade National Player of the Year -- not to mention he led his high school team to three state championship appearances in Washington, winning the state title his junior and senior seasons. How does that all translate to his progress through 15 practices at USC? Very well. Browne showed the ability to command the huddle and make the explosive plays downfield. At times he proved the ability to throw the ball away instead of taking the sack -- a skill he didn't display during the Trojans' spring game. When speaking with Browne it is clear he is mature beyond his years, but with two worthy candidates who are simply ahead in their experience and have a better understanding of the speed of the college game, it would be hard to see a scenario where Browne didn't redshirt this season and gear up to compete -- really compete -- for the starting job in 2014.
Notable in the quarterback race
Why not name a starter out of spring practices? Why not hint at who is ahead? Plenty of questions remain after spring drills that can only be answered with the speculation from observing practices. Kiffin was very tight lipped on the progress of the quarterbacks, often answering any and all questions about the position with the same rehearsed response that the Trojans "have a great problem on their hands" having three able quarterbacks that can all compete at a very high level. In my recollection, never did Kiffin single out one player as having a better day than the other two. He commended all three at different times for different reasons, but when the follow up was inevitably asked if any of them were separating themselves from the rest of the competition, the answer was no. Kiffin said when they did separate themselves, a decision would basically make itself.
Both Wittek and Kessler (and Browne, for that matter) say they came to USC for the competition, but is it possible that whoever doesn't win the competition will transfer, leaving USC in a bit of a quarterback bind? No one will confirm that, in fact Kessler and Wittek have both refuted that idea. However, it's not far fetch to think that if Kiffin named either of them the starter this spring, the other would bolt for a school where he could be utilized next season. Now, the transfer process would be put on hold indefinitely -- if that is indeed the mindset of either one of these players.
My final thought on this quarterback competition (for now): this literally seems like a multiple-choice test in which all three answers are correct – but one is the best answer. Does there seem to be a bad option? No. But there is one that seems to be the best fit right now.