In an example of his patented wry sense of humor, USC coach Lane Kiffin told redshirt freshman Max Wittek on Tuesday that senior walk-on John Manoogian had topped him for the backup quarterback role.
But Kiffin soon relented and told Wittek he was officially naming him senior Matt Barkley’s backup for the season, beating out fellow redshirt freshman Cody Kessler.
“I’m excited about the opportunity,” Wittek said. “I have to stay ready every game, stay ready every play. I have to take advantage of my opportunities when they come.”
He and Kessler have competed for the designation since enrolling in the spring of 2011. Last season, Kiffin redshirted both players, not wanting to burn a year of their eligibility.
Though Kessler was named Barkley’s official backup on the depth chart in 2011, he would have only played had Barkley suffered a serious injury.
Since losing the battle to Kessler, Wittek has improved his understanding of the offense and is reacting much quicker to developments on the field.
Though the new quarterback depth chart adds more clarity to who will take more offensive snaps during practice and enter first in the event of an injury or blowout, Kiffin insists the competition to succeed Barkley will reset once the season ends.
“We feel really confident about both guys,” Kiffin said. “Really, there isn’t much difference between them. This will have nothing to do with who is the starter next season.”
Kiffin hopes that some games this season will allow USC to play both Wittek and Kessler but recognizes such a hope might be unrealistic.
Kiffin also clarified questions related to scholarship numbers Tuesday, noting that USC has renewed scholarships for former walk-ons and redshirt seniors, center Abe Markowitz and linebacker Tony Burnett. Currently, redshirt junior Will Andrew, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship before last season, has yet to have his renewed.
But the situation is fluid, as USC awaits word from the NCAA as to whether incoming freshman receiver Darreus Rogers qualifies academically to play. If he is cleared, he will bring USC to the 75 scholarship limit. If not, Andrew might reclaim his scholarship.
In another competitive position battle, Kiffin has yet to identify a third wide receiver to play behind junior Robert Woods and sophomore Marqise Lee.
“We have different personnel, different guys playing,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully, we get them all to play, and maybe somebody outperforms the other ones. I would anticipate them all playing [against Hawai’i].”
Based on the depth charts released Monday, the three primary candidates for the third spot are junior De’Von Fluornoy, sophomore George Farmer and freshman Nelson Agholor.