USC QB race still too close to call

LOS ANGELES -- With spring ball just one scrimmage away from being in the books, Lane Kiffin and the USC coaching staff appear no closer to naming a starting quarterback today than they were before spring practice started in March.

Of course, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, part of the problem is that all three contenders – Max Wittek, Cody Kessler and early-entrant freshman Max Browne – have all shined at times, thanks in large part to an intense atmosphere of competition that has brought out the best in each of them.

“I'm really proud of all three with the way they have come out and competed every day,” said Trojans offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Clay Helton. “They have done a great job protecting the football – we haven't had an interception in the four scrimmages this spring. They've done a great job of picking things up that we give them and then making good decisions on the field.”

Wittek, the only member of the group with starting experience, entered the spring as the potential favorite to nail down the No. 1 job, but he went down in just the team’s third workout with a sprained MCL – an injury that forced him to miss a week. In his absence, Kessler took advantage of the extended opportunity to make an impression, especially in the scrimmage settings, where he put up big numbers while directing the offense with veteran-like authority. But just when it looked like he was going to pull ahead, Wittek returned. He shook off some rust and has played some of his best football over the last week. Last Saturday he put on an absolute show, completing 14 of 17 pass attempts for 200 yards and two touchdowns in the Coliseum.

Browne hasn’t backed down, either. Continuing to improve throughout the spring, he’s showcased perhaps the best deep ball of the bunch, and while many assume him to be a tad behind the two veterans, it’s still too early to count him out just yet.

“There isn’t a one, two or three – they’re all in there,” Kiffin said following Thursday’s practice. “We’ll sit down and figure out where we are at the end of the spring after we go over everything.”

With only the spring game remaining to make a lasting impression before the offseason, eyes are sure to be focused squarely on the quarterbacks on Saturday. But one scrimmage isn’t likely to make or break this battle, and it’s their potential development throughout the coming months that is likely to play a crucial role in August, when the competition is set to pick back up again.

“They are self-driven young men who know how to prepare,” Helton said. “That will serve them well over the summer when they do their workouts, and that will get them ready for camp.”