There's no competition: Sanchez is easily USC's best QB (cont.)
Sanchez returned to practice this week, about a week ahead of schedule, and quickly reinserted himself as the leader of the team, barking out instructions to receivers and helping the quarterbacks during their drills. Even while Sanchez was sidelined he would help Mustain and Corp with the offense, talking to them after their mistakes. He is more like Carroll than any quarterback the coach has ever had at USC. He is a fiery ball of emotion on the field, but a media darling off it as he shakes hands with every reporter who interviews him and personalizes every autograph he is asked to sign.
"I think I'm a lot like Carroll," said Sanchez, who expects to start the season opener against Virginia. "He says when a good friend comes out and watches one of our practices he wants the first thing for them to say is, 'Man, that looks fast and wow, they play with great effort.' I don't want anyone to ever see me play and not be able to notice that this guy loves what he's doing. It would kill me if anyone ever thought I was just going through the motions or I wasn't into it. I will never have that happen. Some people call it an X-factor, some people call it charisma, but I know that I have to be the quarterback and lead the troops and get guys going."
While Mustain may be the most physically gifted quarterback on the roster, he has looked lost at times as he continues to struggle with his progressions, often throwing interceptions that Carroll calls "game-crushers." It's decisions like that which have not only made Sanchez the clear-cut starter but also catapulted Corp, a redshirt freshman, past Mustain in the eyes of many on the team. With a stingy defense and an embarrassment of riches at running back where six potential game-changing ball carriers litter the backfield, the Trojans would rather go with a solid game manager like Corp than a risk-taker like Mustain.
"We want to find out who is ready to handle the game and make good choices and give us a chance to win," said Carroll. "We're not looking for our quarterback to be spectacular and carry the whole load. We never have."
Mustain was far more comfortable transitioning from high school to college than he has been from Arkansas to USC. No high school quarterback had an easier transition into the college game than Mustain did during his freshman season. He arrived in Fayetteville with his high school coach, Gus Malzahn, who was hired as the Hogs' offensive coordinator along with three of his high school teammates, including receiver Damian Williams, who transferred to USC with him. In terms of his comfort level with his offensive coordinator, Mustain was actually ahead of the upperclassmen dealing with Malzahn for the first time. That couldn't be further from the truth at USC, where even Green, who has played a handful of positions at USC after arriving on campus as a quarterback three years ago, has a better command of the offense than Mustain.
"Garrett Green is further than [Mustain and Corp] in terms of verbiage," said Carroll. "He's smoother with the signals and all that stuff because he's been through it all. They still have a ways to go. They're not there yet."
There has always been an inclination for fans and outsiders to clamor for the backup quarterback to unseat the new starting quarterback during Carroll's tenure at USC. Leinart was supposed to replace Palmer in the starting lineup in 2001 after the Trojans started the season 2-5. Booty was supposed to replace Leinart after USC lost to Cal in 2003. And Sanchez actually did end up replacing Booty for three games after the senior quarterback broke his finger in a loss to Stanford.
The current situation at quarterback for USC could best be compared to the situation prior to the 2003 season when a two-year backup (Leinart) beat out a transfer quarterback that had starting experience at a big-time program (Brandan Hance, who started nine games at Purdue as a sophomore), a high-school prodigy (Booty) and a versatile quarterback willing to play some wide receiver to get on the field (Matt Cassel). It seems silly to think of that as a competition now and the same may be said about the competition heading into the 2008 season years down the line in retrospect.
"No disrespect to the other quarterbacks, but Mark is a complete quarterback," said linebacker Rey Maualuga. "He's overall the best quarterback of the three and he gives us the best chance to win."