Wittek to be Barkley's backup

LOS ANGELES -- Max Wittek has won the right to back up Matt Barkley.

The redshirt freshman from Mater Dei beat out fellow second-year player Cody Kessler in the race to back up Barkley at USC, Trojans coach Lane Kiffin announced Tuesday.

The players were informed of the decision in brief, early-morning meetings Tuesday. At first, Kiffin joked with Wittek that walk-on John Manoogian had won the job. Then he gave him the news he'd been waiting for, with an additional warning that the decision doesn't mean anything for next season, when Barkley will be gone and the starting job will be up for grabs.

Wittek was still very pleased.

"I'm excited about the opportunity," he said Tuesday. "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."

At 6-feet-4 and 245 pounds, with the strongest arm among the Trojans' three scholarship quarterbacks, Wittek is an impressive prospect who's gotten even more zip on his throws of late. With enough mobility to make scrambling a possibility, he looks like a future NFL'er.

But the smaller Kessler was the backup last season, and he's always appeared more than comfortable in the huddle and in the pocket.

Wittek said he didn't think any one thing gave him the job over Kessler, but, when pressed later, he said he felt confidence was one thing he had going for him. Kessler said Kiffin told him it was a thin margin between the two.

USC's plan for right now is to have both players take snaps this season so they can restart the competition in January, after Barkley's departure.

"Hopefully we’ll be in a situation or at a point this year, or a couple of times, where both of them get action -- that would be ideal for us," Kiffin said. "This will have nothing to do with who is the starter next season. In the spring the competition will be wide open, just like we said last fall, where Cody was two, ahead of Max."

Kessler said he's not frustrated. He expects to play this season and challenge Wittek in the spring, when freshman Max Browne will also be in the mix.

"I can’t go around moping the whole time," Kessler said. "Last year it was the other way around, and Max handled it well, when I was the backup last year. That’s how we are as a quarterback corps.

"We keep competing no matter what string we are, all the way down to the fifth-stringer, even the walk-ons."