10 questions for fall camp, No. 1: Backing up Barkley

July, 21, 2011
7/21/11
1:28
PM PT
Ten weekdays remain until the start of fall camp on Aug. 4. Each of those 10 days, we'll take a somewhat-quick look at one question facing the Trojans entering the camp season, with looks at the running back depth chart considering the recent Marc Tyler news, the incoming freshmen most likely to contribute immediately and a number of other issues. They won't necessarily be gigantic questions, but they'll be questions all the same -- and we'll do our best to preview what answers we might receive during camp. During this time, we'll also finish up our first, first look series with previews of the final three 2011 opponents and cover Pac-12 media day in all of its glory.

First on the list of 10 questions is this: Who will win the job as Matt Barkley's backup?

Jesse Scroggins was the announced leader during the spring, according to coach Lane Kiffin. But he never quite sealed off the position entirely, and, by the end of the spring, Scroggins and his two competitors, true freshmen Max Wittek and Cody Kessler, were listed as even in the race to back up Barkley.

By the time the Sept. 3 opener against Minnesota comes around, a clear backup will have been found, and a clear redshirt will likely have been found as well. The redshirt candidate will be either Wittek or Kessler, one of the two but not both. Regardless of whether Scroggins wins the No. 2 job outright, he won't be redshirted.

Why? Because he already was, last year. The 6-3, 205-pound Scroggins is a redshirt freshman.

So what kind of things are going to determine who wins the job between Scroggins and the two fresh-faced frosh (who were both with the team in the spring)?

It's not going to be experience, because none of them have any. It's going to be a sort of faux experience -- poise, really. Lane Kiffin's going to have to feel confident enough in one of them where he'd be able to bring him into a game with Barkley hurt for a snap or 10 and not have to run the ball every play.

And Barkley has missed two and a half games due to injury in his two seasons as starter.

In mid-April, Kiffin said Scroggins had improved in "everything," noting that his decision-making and command of the offense had improved sizably since the previous fall. But his command of the huddle was another story, the coach said.

Interestingly, when Barkley missed a summer throwing session last month to visit ESPN studios in Bristol, Kessler was the signal-caller who most looked in control of the huddle. He's naturally loud and leader-esque, as opposed to the more stoic and quiet Wittek, and he showed that while Barkley was gone.

Could that play a role in the eventual decision?

It wouldn't be surprising. All three players have the skills to play quarterback at the college level. It wouldn't be exactly ideal for any of them to play extensively this year, but the search to find Barkley's backup will be about the search to find the one least likely to be rattled in a game this season.

And probably beyond, too. Because the search to find his backup will be a good indicator of how the search to find the next USC starting quarterback will go.

That's it for today. Tomorrow we question how far into Kiffin's doghouse Brice Butler went during spring practice and if he'll be able to make a comeback during the fall.

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