Lane Kiffin named his backup quarterback Wednesday, but you wouldn't know it by talking to the two candidates.
Both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek sounded as confident as ever Thursday, after another practice in which the two each shined separately. But Kessler will be Matt Barkley's No. 2, per Kiffin.
"Nothing’s really guaranteed," Kessler said. "Anything can happen, anything can change if I let up or if Matt lets up or if Max lets up. We’re all a corps, grouped together, so we have to prepared to go in at any time.”
"It’s a big responsibility. But, at the same time, anything could change at any time."
Wittek, who turned 18 less than a month ago, echoed that, sounding only slightly less positive than he has in recent weeks.
“It is what it is,” he said. “Nothing’s going to change my goal of being the starting quarterback at USC – I’m going to keep doing what I do and see what comes of it.”
“This isn’t gonna stop me from how I look at what I’m trying to do.”
Kiffin made a point Wednesday -- and Thursday, too, saying "Really, both guys have played great,” -- of emphasizing that the race was close and that it has no bearing on the eventual starter once Barkley leaves. The intention within those statements was clear: Appease Wittek and don't give him any reason to transfer. But there's truth within them, too, as both players really have appeared to be capable backups, despite being true fresh
Did that comfort him at all?
“I guess you could say that,” Wittek said Thursday. “But I came here for the reason of being the next starting quarterback here, and, regardless of who is the backup or not this year, I’m gonna keep doing what I do every day, watch film, get out here at practice, take advantage of my opportunities and I still plan to achieve that goal.”
Kessler won the job because of one primary thing, it appears: the way he played in the Coliseum the three times the Trojans practiced there this fall. Most other times, he and Wittek performed similarly, but he stood out during those sessions.
“The scrimmages were the biggest thing that Coach Kiffin said,” Kessler said. “He said, ‘Hey, if you think you should be playing here, you want to earn a spot, show it on film, don’t talk about it. And the scrimmages are the biggest thing to put you in a game situation and see how you perform.”
Interestingly, Kiffin made it known Wednesday that the plan is still to redshirt both Kessler and Wittek if Barkley can stay healthy by using a walk-on to mop up in late-game situations. But Barkley has missed at least a full game in each of the last two seasons, meaning it's at least a legitimate possibility that Kessler will be asked to start a game as a true freshman.
“I hope the best for Matt. I hope nothing happens to him," Kessler said. "But if anything did I know that (quarterbacks) coach (Clay) Helton’s preparing all of us – doesn’t matter what string we are – to go in at any time, because some crazy things have happened in the past and anything can happen."