The race to be Matt Barkley’s backup is even, one week into spring practice at the University of Southern California.
The three players competing for the job are all freshmen: Jesse Scroggins, Max Wittek and Cody Kessler. Scroggins is a redshirt freshman out of nearby Lakewood High; Wittek and Kessler are Class of 2011 recruits who enrolled at USC in January.
All three were big-time recruits out of high school. None of the three have taken an early lead over the others yet.
“We’re the same, to me,” Scroggins said Saturday. “We watch the same film, go over the same things.
"Nobody’s really ahead; we’re all doing the same thing.”
Scroggins was believed to have a slight edge entering into the spring, if only because he had half a year in the system to get acclimated. But Wittek and Kessler have quickly caught on to the USC offensive system, and all three have split backup snaps evenly so far, three practices into the spring.
Wittek, a product of Santa Ana Mater Dei, has made the fewest mistakes of the three. He’s yet to throw an interception in practice. Scroggins threw two Saturday – and fumbled three snaps -- and another earlier in the week. Kessler, from Centennial High in Bakersfield, has thrown two.
"Really, your backup quarterback is going to be mostly about decision-making and managing the offense,” Trojans coach Lane Kiffin said earlier this week. “You’re not looking for the guy to necessarily have the 400-yard passing game.
“He’s not gonna get a lot of reps during the season, so he’s gonna need to be a guy that takes the game very seriously and can go in at any time and run the whole offense.”
Kiffin has re-orchestrated his practice schedule some to incorporate more seven-on-seven drills for the freshmen to try their hands at, and all three of players have made a habit of staying after the end of practice to get extra work.
For now, the battle is attracting a lot of attention, but it appears the decision on the No. 2 signal-caller will be made sometime near the end of the spring or over the summer, because the Trojans would like to focus on getting Barkley ready come fall camp and in-season practices.