Filling the Void: Who will win USC’s starting quarterback position

Trojan Freshman Max Browne takes a snap in spring practice
(Photo Courtesy: USA Today Sports)

It’s spring, and here at Crystal Ball Run, that only means one thing: The start of baseball season!

Kidding. No one actually watches baseball anymore, do they?

In all seriousness we’re here to talk some spring football, where just about every program across the country has opened camp at this point (interestingly, a few have actually already closed it as well).

And specifically, it’s time to look at some of the biggest and most hotly contested position battles across this spring, battles which could help fill the void on 2014’s National Championship contenders, and ones which could help decide who holds up the crystal ball in January 2014.

First up in our newly-titled series “Filling the Void” we look at the quarterback derby at USC, where three players are attempting to replace Matt Barkley.  


We all know it was a disappointing season at USC, and no one was more disappointing than their golden-locked, (formerly) golden-armed quarterback Matt Barkley.

After setting a Pac-12 record with 39 touchdown passes as a junior, Barkley’s 2012 season was a dud for the ages, as his touchdown totals dropped from 2011 (to 36) along with his completion percentage, from 69 percent to 63 percent as well. In the process, Barkley also threw more than double the number of interceptions as a senior (15) that he did as a junior (seven), despite actually attempting 59 fewer passes.

While Barkley obviously isn’t 100 percent to blame for his disappointing senior year (‘SC’s offensive line gave the word “abysmal” a bad name in 2012), it was clear he just wasn’t the same player this year that he was last.

Finally, Barkley’s career ended with a literal thud against UCLA in November, when the Bruins Anthony Barr not only sacked him, but dislocated his shoulder and knocked Barkley out of USC’s cross-town beat down loss against the Bruins. It was the last snap he ever played in a Trojans uniform, and redshirt freshman Max Wittek started USC’s final regular season game against Notre Dame and bowl loss to Georgia Tech.

Who’s leaving?

Matt Barkley (2012 stats): 246 of 387 (63.6 percent), 3,273 yards, 36 touchdowns, 15 interceptions in 2012

Who’s filling the Void?

Max Wittek, Redshirt Sophomore (2012 stats): 36 of 69 (52.2 percent), 388 yards, three touchdowns, five interceptions

Cody Kessler, Redshirt Sophomore (2012 stats): 2 of 2 (100 percent), nine yards, zero touchdowns, zero interceptions

Max Browne, Early Enrollee Freshman (2012 stats): N/A

What’s happened this spring?

The biggest news came when Wittek- the man who took virtually all the snaps after Barkley went down to injury last season- suffered a minor knee injury early on this spring. Wittek missed the first practices of his USC career following an MCL sprain, but is back on the field and took part in a scrimmage this past Saturday, March 30.

Speaking of that scrimmage, it was actually Kessler who stood out the most when the Trojans got together on Saturday. He finished the afternoon with two touchdowns, after completing 5 of 9 passes. Wittek went 3 for 5 for 84 yards and a touchdown pass of his own.

Browne- a player widely considered to be the top quarterback in the high school class of 2013- had a slow start to the spring, but has improved as the practices have gone on. An early enrollee, Browne is still learning the playbook and has worked mostly with the second team this spring.  

What to expect heading into the summer and fall?

Frankly, it’s hard to imagine Kiffin naming a starter at any point between now and fall camp in August. For starters (see what I did there?) it doesn’t appear as though any of the three will separate themselves at any point before then. More importantly, for a program with as little depth as USC, naming a starter now only opens the door for an off-season transfer. And really, the last thing Lane Kiffin needs at this point is any more attrition from his program.

If we had to take a guess right now, it seems like when it’s all said and done, Wittek will be the starter for Week 1. We all know Lane Kiffin has no margin for error in 2013, and while Kessler is coming on strong and Browne probably has the most upside long-term, Wittek provides the Trojans the opportunity to win right now.

Wins are something that USC needs immediately and expect Wittek to be under center when the Trojans travel to Hawaii on Thursday, August 29.

For all his opinion, insight and analysis, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

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About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.