Now in year three of the Great Texas Longhorns Quarterback Speculation regarding the possibility of adding a graduate transfer or junior college quarterback, the latest name to surface is that of soon-to-be former USC Trojans signal-caller Max Wittek.
The fourth-year junior has informed the new USC coaching staff that he will skip spring practice and graduate at the end of the current semester, making him eligible to transfer to a school of his choice in the fall to complete his final two seasons of eligibility, as long as said school has a graduate program that the Trojans do not offer.
A four-star prospect out of Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei in 2011, Wittek enrolled early at USC over numerous high-profile offers, including Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Notre Dame, South Carolina, and UCLA. Then listed at 6'4 and 215 pounds, the No. 3 pro-style passer nationally by Rivals was expected to succeed fellow Mater Dei alum Matt Barkely as the starter for the Trojans.
In 2012, Wittek had his chance to replace an injured Barkley, throwing for 186 yards on 14-of-23 passing against Notre Dame in a losing effort that also included one touchdown pass and two interceptions. His subsequent showing against Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl was less promising, however, featuring three interceptions, a 37.8% completion percentage and only 107 yards on 14 attempts.
Appearances in the first three games of 2013 were not enough to land Wittek the job over Cody Kessler, who went on to turn in a solid season with an adjusted QBR of 66.7, right about what Case McCoy managed.
Could there be any interest on the part of Texas, despite the interception problems and generally underwhelming career Wittek had at USC? Bruce Feldman thinks it's at least worth mentioning as possibility:
The tie between Wittek and Tommie Robinson, now coaching the running backs at Texas, certainly makes the whole thing more plausible.
And if the current coaching staff has anything to take away from the recent quarterback mismanagement at Texas that left the Horns with no other options other than Case McCoy last fall when David Ash was hurt, ensuring that there is an experienced player behind Ash this fall due to the possibility of continued concussion-related issues would definitely be an easy ad perhaps even necessary takeaway.
Would bringing in another quarterback with eligibility impact sophomore Tyrone Swoopes, who was not able to benefit from either a redshirt season or a significant amount of playing time as a freshman? It's possible, as he would have some significant competition for the right to be the first quarterback off the bench in the result of an injury to Ash or 2011-style ineffectiveness from the prospective Texas starter, but making a decision based on potentially losing a quarterback is probably not in the best interest of the program.
Still, there's no question that bringing in Wittek would push Swoopes closer to a possible transfer if he lost ground on the depth chart. And Swoopes still has much more upside than a player who has already proven ineffective in the college game.
Another negative with Wittek is that he didn't graduate mid term, so he wouldn't be on campus until the summer, decreasing the chances that he would even be in a position to beat out Swoopes.
On the other hand, entering the season with only three scholarship quarterbacks risks burning Jerrod Heard's redshirt if Ash goes down with another injury. Jalen Overstreet is an emergency option, but his future looks brightest at another position, perhaps even linebacker.
It's also the case that Wittek should have other options that would present easier opportunities to earn a starting job. Even if the Horns do opt to pursue to the former four-star prospect, if California schools like Fresno State and/or San Jose State also express their interest with the starting positions open at both schools, would Wittek opt to leave the state he's always called home to compete against an entrenched starter?
Former head coach Mack Brown and his coaching staffs always opted for the status quo. Will Charlie Strong and his offensive brain trust feel the same way?