- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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Jesse Scroggins is a guy who should be able to provide some insight into USC's high-profile quarterback competition. After all, he practiced with Cody Kessler and Max Wittek for a year. He's witnessed their strengths and weaknesses and their makeup and leadership skills.
So, what's his take? Does he like the scrappy Kessler or the big-armed Wittek?
"I don't know and I don't care," Scroggins said. "I'll know when I see them on the field. I got NAU first. I'm not really worried about that game."
Scroggins has his own QB battle to think about, only he's now in Tucson, not L.A. He wants to fill Matt Scott's shoes, not Matt Barkley's.
The USC parting wasn't completely amicable. Scroggins, one of the nation's top-rated prep quarterbacks in 2010, had some struggles with off-field distractions that hurt his academics, but he rallied in the classroom only to find out that, nonetheless, he was seen by coaches as the odd-man out due to USC trying to fit its roster under NCAA-mandated scholarship limitations. Essentially, he was pushed out the door.
"Certain things happened that shouldn't have happened but everything happens for the best," Scroggins said.
Scroggins went to El Camino College in Torrance, Calif., and put up middling numbers -- 1,148 yards passing, eight touchdowns and five interceptions in eight games -- and arrived at Arizona with a toe injury. That injury sidelined him for most of spring practices. When he made a surprise appearance in the spring game, his first pass was intercepted.
But then he completed 6 of 16 passes for 44 yards and two touchdowns, understandably showing plenty of rust but also flashing at times the ability that made him such a hot recruit. While senior B.J. Denker, who arrived at Arizona with no recruiting pedigree, emerged from spring leading the QB competition, it's far from over.
"I feel like it's all even from today until fall camp starts," Scroggins said. "It's going to be competition until the first game."
One thing is clear: No quarterback on the Wildcats' roster, including touted incoming freshman Anu Solomon, is Scroggins' equal when it comes to arm strength. The Wildcats thrived throwing the ball downfield last fall with the strong-armed Scott. Things wouldn't change with Scroggins behind center.
While coach Rich Rodriguez's offense is widely seen as a read-option that requires a speedy quarterback, which Scroggins isn't, the reality is Rodriguez adapts his play calling for his available talent. Sure, Scott was a good runner, but he led the Pac-12 in passing last fall with 301.7 yards per game. The Wildcats run-pass ratio was even (544 rush, 538 pass).
"Coach Rodriguez's offense goes around the quarterback, whatever your strengths are, that's the type of thing he's going to go with," Scroggins said. "I can run. I just would rather pass first."
Scroggins, a 6-foot-3, 210-pound junior, said his toe is about "90 percent" and that he's actively running. He expects to be full-go this summer for "voluntary" summer workouts with his teammates, a time when he can build relationships and inspire confidence in him within the locker room.
He's been around long enough to realize that Arizona's locker room is different than USC's.
"Everybody doesn't think they are the guy," Scroggins said. "Guys just want to play football here. It's not about five stars and four stars here. These aren't those type of guys. They have the ability and the skill but we just want to play football rather than talk about it."
Of course, there are folks on the USC end of things who would say the Scroggins of 2010 viewed himself as "the guy." Adversity may have humbled and matured Scroggins, who eagerly noted he's posted 3.0 GPAs his past two semesters.
He called leaving USC "discouraging," but "probably the best thing for me." After a year in junior college, he picked the Wildcats over Arkansas, Wisconsin, Auburn and U-Mass. He was won over by the Wildcats' wide-open scheme, the honest pitch from co-offensive coordinator Rod Smith and the more laid back environment in Tucson.
"I wanted a family environment, something that reminded me of my family," he said.
As for his old "family," yes, Scroggins is excited about the prospect of sticking it to the Trojans in the Coliseum on Oct. 10.
"Definitely," he said.