Kessler and Wittek continue to battle

Jesse Scroggins is still technically in it, but the redshirt sophomore hasn't made serious noise in quite some time while bogged down by injuries and academic issues.

So, for now and the foreseeable future, the competition to back up Matt Barkley this fall is a two-horse race between Cody Kessler and Max Wittek, the two redshirt freshmen who enrolled early last January.

And the race is really heating up.

It was more informal than normal because of a lack of healthy receivers, but Wittek put up probably his best scrimmage performance to date Saturday at the Coliseum, looking significantly more accurate and composed than he had in the past. Kessler, who beat Wittek for the No. 2 job last year on the strength of his composure, has always done well in the scrimmages. He didn't do anything particularly wrong over the weekend but was clearly matched -- even slightly outdone -- this time.

Of course, nothing's going to be decided now or next week or even next month. It's going to go down to the wire next fall as the coaches keep judging the two players on the key criteria they desire in a backup quarterback and a quarterback of the future.

"We always look for three things: decision-making, timing and accuracy," quarterbacks coach Clay Helton said last week when asked what Wittek and Kessler will be judged on this spring. "You can see them making better decisions than they made last spring, getting the ball out on time and being accurate, so we're very pleased with both of their progressions.

"Obviously they're not where Matt Barkley is yet, but that comes with time and experience."

You can really see the experience showing up with Wittek, both in the huddle and outside of it. At times last season, he appeared a bit timid. He was rarely engaging. This spring, he's even cracking jokes with the media and smiling as he walks off the field.

Helton says he's noticing the experience already, with Wittek but with Kessler too. The full year they've already spent with the program allows to skip past the getting-comfortable part of the spring and right into the getting-better part.

"The best thing that's happened for Max and Cody is they graduated early," Helton said. "This is their second spring, even though they just finished their freshman year. And they're light years ahead of where they were last spring.

"You can see the confidence."