USC’s Wittek, Kessler step up bowl preparation

Max Wittek got a big opportunity when he started in place of Matt Barkley against Notre Dame.

The redshirt freshman quarterback appears on track for another start in the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl against Georgia Tech.

Barkley, who suffered a shoulder injury against UCLA last month, was absent from the practice field Saturday when the Trojans resumed Sun Bowl preparation after a week off. Coach Lane Kiffin said the senior was not expected to practice until USC travels to El Paso on Dec. 26.

But even if cleared to practice and play, Barkley is expected to seriously consider the risk of reinjuring his right shoulder or suffering another injury that could affect preparation for the NFL draft.

Meantime, Wittek and redshirt freshman Cody Kessler are splitting first-team reps.

“Matt’s still here, he’s still a captain of this football team,” Wittek said. “But not being at practice gives us the opportunity to step up and be leaders and compete.”

Wittek completed 14 of 23 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown, with two passes intercepted, in the Trojans’ 22-13 loss to Notre Dame.

It’s not a Bowl Championship Series game, but Wittek said playing in the Sun Bowl would be another chance to gain experience.

“Obviously, if you look at it from the beginning of the season, it’s not the most ideal situation that everyone thought was going to happen,” he said. “But at the end of the day, it’s another game and it’s another opportunity.”

Said Kessler: “I just keep preparing like I have all year.”

And what of Barkley?

“We anticipate Matt practicing when we get down there,” Kiffin said. “We’ll see.”

Receiver Robert Woods said he hoped Barkley would play.

“It will definitely matter because of his impact on the game as a quarterback and from a captain standpoint,” Woods said. “But we’re ready to go with Max.”

Hovering issue

As the Trojans practiced, Heritage Hall was evacuated, Los Angeles Police Dept. helicopters circled overhead, and officers blocked streets and walkways near the McKay Center as they searched for a man suspected of a narcotics crime.

Several players who left practice to seek medical treatment or extra work at the McKay Center were initially turned away by LAPD officers. The players were eventually allowed into the building.

Asked whether he was distracted by the helicopters, Kiffin quipped, “No, I just thought that was the bowl game — that TV wanted to get some extra film. And so it wasn’t distracting at all.”

Back in the fold

Kiffin said he was pleased that receivers coach Tee Martin opted to remain with the Trojans after considering an offer to join Tennessee’s staff.

Martin played quarterback for Tennessee’s 1998 national championship team.

“We’re going to lose him someday,” Kiffin said. “He’s going to be a head coach pretty soon, but I’m glad we didn’t lose him quite yet.”

Quick hits

Kenny Bigelow, a defensive lineman from Eastern Christian Academy in Elkton, Md., is among recruits on official visits this weekend…. Kiffin lauded sophomore receiver George Farmer for a third consecutive impressive practice…. USC practices Sunday.

-Gary Klein