From USC to Boise State, Spring Depth Charts Can Be Shallow


Boise State head coach Chris Petersen must replace nearly every starter from a corps that won 50 games since 2008. The seven returners combined make for one of the least experienced starting 22 in all college football. One position in particular caught folks’ attention in the spring season, that being Kellen Moore’s successor to quarterback.

Petersen placed a gag order on the competitors for the position, barring interaction between them and the media. President Richard Nixon would be impressed with the cloak-and-dagger operation behind replacing one of the best college quarterbacks, because even after the Broncos concluded spring practices on Saturday, we the football people are no closer to knowing a definitive starter.

Now, Joe Southwick might appear a clubhouse leader. The junior was efficient in Saturday’s spring game, going 14-19 and scoring a touchdown. Southwick also assumed No. 1 duties in the spring game.

However, if you rewind to 2008, such indicators meant bupkis come Week 1. That’s because Petersen announced a scrawny, straw-haired freshman named Kellen Moore the starter prior to the Broncos’ opener against Idaho State.

No one looked back. The Broncos went unbeaten that regular season, and never lost more than once since. BSU’s current situation is uncharted territory since that August day — then again, it’s awfully similar to four years ago. Taylor Tharp was vacating starting duties one season after taking over for Jared Zabransky, and the race to succeed him was crowded.

Idaho Statesman beat reporter Chadd Cripe had an interesting observation that didn’t really eliminate anyone from contention:

"1. Who’s the QB? Junior Joe Southwick exits spring ball as the favorite, but history has shown that the QB job is won in fall camp, not spring ball. If true freshman Nick Patti can build on his impressive spring and not stall in the frenzied pace of fall camp, like some early arrivals have before, he could challenge for the job. And don’t write off sophomore Grant Hedrick and redshirt freshman Jimmy Laughrea, who played much better in practice than the Spring Game."

Choosing the appropriate successor is a tricky proposition. BSU is on a much more solid infrastructure than Hawai’i after the Warriors’ Colt Brennan-led Sugar Bowl run, but there are similar repercussions should there be a misfire. Greg McMackin initially played revolving quarterbacks between Greg Alexander and Inoke Funaki, with apparent heir Tyler Graunke never quite recovering from a hand injury. The result was a 1-3 start.

After settling on Alexander, the Warriors won six of their next eight. Three of their losses after that stretch were to unbeaten BSU, Orange Bowl-bound Cincinnati and Notre Dame. Ideally, when Petersen makes a decision, it’s one that can stick to give his offense stability.

USC has no such conundrum with its starting quarterback. The Trojans enter a situation akin to BSU’s last season, returning a fourth-year starter expected to contend for the Heisman Trophy. The real competition of USC spring ball was for Matt Barkley’s back-up.

And after releasing its end-of-spring depth chart yesterday, Lane Kiffin appears no closer to answering that question now than he was in February.

Both Cody Kessler and Max Wittek were highly touted recruits. Neither was terribly impressive in USC’s half-speed spring game, thus neither distinguished himself the No. 2. A big, bold OR signifies equal footing on the depth chart. But, until football evolves to a point that two quarterbacks play simultaneously, the town ain’t big enough for the both of them — if if that town is Los Angeles.

Especially if that town’s Los Angeles.

Barring injury to Barkley, neither Kessler nor Wittek’s standing is all that relevant now. However, USC has a stockade of talent that returns for 2013 and beyond. Marqise Lee has been praised as potentially better than Heisman candidate Robert Woods, and Lee will have another season remaining after this upcoming. Establishing a rhythm between Lee and the quarterback of the future in game situations now would benefit Kiffin long term.

Four and a half months remain until opening week, so putting too much stake on current depth charts is equivalent to going all-in on the flop.