Kiffin plans to use two quarterbacks in USC season opener against Hawaii
Wittek and Kessler both show strengths and ready for action
LOS ANGELES -- Quarterbacks Max Wittek and Cody Kessler both will play for No. 24 Southern California in its season opener next week.
Coach Lane Kiffin said Saturday that he couldn't pick a starting quarterback after a full offseason of evaluation, so both sophomores will get snaps Thursday at Hawaii.
"That really is how well both guys did," Kiffin said after practice. "For us, we look at it as a great thing. We've got two guys that we feel great about. We don't feel like we have to limit our offense with either one of them in there."
USC's coaches won't even decide on a nominal starter until they arrive in Honolulu on Tuesday.
Kiffin thinks Wittek and Kessler are even in their competition to succeed Matt Barkley, the Trojans' four-year starter. Wittek started the final two games last season for USC while Barkley was injured, but Kessler had a strong training camp this month.
Wittek has a stronger arm and more experience, but Kessler proved to be more mobile while showing off his resourcefulness during camp workouts. They both beat out touted freshman Max Browne, who also was in contention for the starting spot until midway through camp.
"They've both done so well, made so many plays," Kiffin said. "It didn't show itself that one guy was above the other guy, so we do it all the time with other positions. We're not going to be stubborn and name a starter just because we're supposed to, or that's what we've done for 100 years, or whatever that is. We've got to do with all of our decisions what's best for our team."
Yet Kiffin has spent training camp saying he hoped a starter would emerge, acknowledging that using two quarterbacks isn't an ideal way to build a team with question marks at several offensive positions. Biletnikoff Award-winning receiver Marqise Lee also hoped Kiffin would pick a starter so he could develop his timing with one passer.
"Ideally, we're going to get to that," Kiffin said. "Ideally, we're not going to continue to do this all year. But at the same time, it can't just [choose] because we've had a way of doing things before."
Kiffin doesn't enjoy pretending to choose a starter at any position when he's planning to use multiple players during games. USC's depth chart, which Kiffin gave about "5 seconds' thought" before it was released Saturday, lists multiple possible starters at five offensive positions, including tailback, fullback and right guard.
Injuries also play a role in Kiffin's decisions, because 19 players couldn't participate in the Trojans' practice Saturday due to various problems.
But Kiffin seems confident his offense can build a winning rhythm with two quarterbacks taking the snaps.
"We're excited to see both of them play," he said. "We look at it as an opportunity for two guys to play great, just like when you're excited for two guys to play tailback."