Freshman quarterback Cody Kessler has won the Trojans’ backup quarterback race over Max Wittek, coach Lane Kiffin said Wednesday.
Kessler has slightly outplayed Wittek in camp this fall, but both players have impressed Kiffin and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton through the first three weeks and both stand to compete for the No. 1 spot when starter Matt Barkley leaves for the NFL after the 2011 or 2012 season.
“We went with Cody, and, really, I know this is abnormal to hear, but it’s really not a reflection on their play,” Kiffin said after Wednesday’s practice, in which Kessler received all of the second-team snaps during scout-team drills. “They’ve both played so well. I know both of them could go in and play right now.
“This was not a big competition that Cody won, necessarily. It was just what we went with, to give him the No. 2 snaps.”
Entering the fall, redshirt freshman Jesse Scroggins was believed to hold a slight lead over Wittek and Kessler, but he tore ligaments in his throwing thumb in the Trojans’ second scrimmage and subsequently fell behind in the race. Since then, Kiffin and Helton had maintained that the two true freshmen were neck-and-neck in the competition.
There was more intrigue than normal to this race this fall because of the possibility Barkley could leave after this season, his junior year. If he does, Wittek and Kessler will compete as equals, Kiffin said. And the same would be true if Barkley stays another year.
“Regardless of how he were to play as the No. 2 -- good, bad or indifferent -- whenever Matt leaves the competition will be wide open and we’ll start over, because we have great confidence in both of them,” Kiffin said.
The Trojans still hope to redshirt both players, Kiffin said. If Barkley doesn’t suffer any major injuries throughout the year, Kiffin said walk-on John Manoogian could pick up for him late in games and primarily hand off the ball to save Wittek and Kessler’s eligibility.