Kiffin tight-lipped on USC’s next quarterback

LOS ANGELES –There’s Max Browne, the rookie. Max Wittek, the strong-armed fill-in from a season ago. And there’s Cody Kessler, lacking of ideal size but showing the capability to run an offense.

Kessler was the perceived leader in the clubhouse at the conclusion of spring, although head coach Lane Kiffin isn’t saying.

He’s overseeing a three-horse race and is determined to see his quarterbacks, all three of them, duke it out.

Like a professional poker player, Kiffin isn’t tipping his hand. Just ask Marqise Lee. Even, Mr. Biletnikoff himself is in the dark although he may be the one to benefit from the starting quarterback the most.

“I ask Kiffin (who the starter will be) all the time but Kiffin don’t give me nothing,” Lee exclaimed at last month’s Pac-12 media day.

As far as who Lee thinks will be Matt Barkley’s successor, he’s not clear, seeing how the offense could benefit from either of the candidates.

On day one of fall camp, the slugfest continued. Saturday began just how the spring ended — even. They all “seemed” to perform well Kiffin said at the conclusion of Saturday’s practice.

“No decisions being made today,” the head coach said.

The competition continues with each knowing what he signed up for. Nothing in the past matters. Being passed over for the No. 2 spot last season is old news for Kessler. The disappointment of the Sun Bowl and the spring game are distant memories for Wittek. Being named the Gatorade National Football Player of the Year carries no weight on Howard Jones Field for Browne.

If they don’t take care of what’s in front of them, the opportunity to be named the starting quarterback at USC will slip from their grasp. A thought neither wants to become a reality.

“We all came here to be the next starting quarterback at USC and we all plan to do that,” Wittek said.

Yet to this point neither has been able to deliver that knockout punch to those he’s competing with. That would entail playing really well, commanding the offense, and taking care of the football, Kiffin says.

“It’s not always about the biggest plays,” Kiffin said. “It’s about managing the game and taking care of the football and winning the turnover margin.”

And so it ensues. Fall camp carries on with Browne, Wittek, and Kessler vying to take one step ahead of the others. Somewhere in the future for one of them is the responsibility of being Matt Barkley’s successor.

“Without getting too (much) in detail, we know what’s at stake and I love it,” Kessler said. “I thrive off of competition.”

As do his counterparts. Stick around. This one could go the distance.