LOS ANGELES - Max Wittek has a booming arm and big-game experience. Cody Kessler has superior mobility and a level head. Max Browne has limitless potential.
Lane Kiffin has quite a choice on his hands.
Kiffin, the Southern California coach, must pick a member of that trio as Matt Barkley's successor at starting quarterback heading into the team's season opener on Aug. 29 against Hawaii at Aloha Stadium. In the meantime, the candidates for the job are pushing each other on the practice field and working together in the film room, waiting to see who gets the call.
Max Wittek started Southern California’s final two games last season, both losses.
"We spend so much time together, (so) why spend all that time being enemies?" Wittek asked earlier this week. "We're all here for the same thing. We all realize one person will end up being the starting quarterback this season, so we're all good friends. We learn from each other. We think that's the best way to be."
Kiffin is taking his time, insisting there's no clear favorite to replace Barkley, the Trojans' departed four-year starter and the most prolific passer in Pac-12 history.
"It's still really early," Kiffin said. "That's going to be about us watching the film (of scrimmages). It's not just going to hang on stats. It's going to be about the whole evaluation of the play."
Home games in bold All times HST
x-Mountain West game
Aug. 29-USC, 5 p.m.
Sept. 7-at Oregon St., 2 p.m.
Sept. 21-x-at Nevada, 2:05 p.m.
Sept. 28-x-Fresno St., 6 p.m.
Oct. 5-x-San Jose St., 6 p.m.
Oct. 12-x-at UNLV, 2:05 p.m.
Oct. 26-x-Colorado St., 6 p.m.
Nov. 2-x-at Utah St., 10 a.m.
Nov. 9-at Navy, 10:30 a.m.
Nov. 16-x-San Diego St., 5:30 p.m.
Nov. 23-x-at Wyoming, 9:05 a.m.
Nov. 30-Army, 6 p.m.
Wittek and Kessler are sophomores, and both learned plenty from backing up Barkley last season. Browne also is firmly in the mix after being named the nation's top high school player last season.
When Barkley was sidelined with a sprained shoulder last season, Wittek started the Trojans' final two games, losing to Notre Dame and then to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl to complete USC's slide from a preseason No. 1 ranking to a 7-6 finish.
"I've grown a lot, matured, being able to get that Sun Bowl and Notre Dame experience under my belt," Wittek said. "But the past is the past. Moving into this season, I've got a competition ahead of me."
Wittek is thought to have the strongest arm in camp, but Kessler has uncorked a series of lengthy throws in the first few days, saying he "took it personal" when he heard about criticism of his deep balls. Kessler is considered more mobile than Wittek, who fits the pro-style pocket passing traditionally favored by USC.
"I think we're focused on right now, because that's all you can do," Kessler said. "There's still that bad taste in our mouth, but that's the point, to come out and not let that happen again."
Browne is likely to redshirt this season if Kessler and Wittek stay healthy, but is treating his first Trojans camp as an audition for the job he's expected to win in coming seasons.
"It's still fast, and I'm still getting used to it," Browne said. "But before (training camp), everything was spinning. Now, it's slowing down."