January 16, 2009

Sanchez decision changes plan for '09

It's amazing how a few simple words can change the trajectory of a season instantaneously.

When quarterback Mark Sanchez announced he'd be forgoing his senior season, USC and Pete Carroll's plan for 2009 was thrown into flux.

Instead of Sanchez leading an offense that returns 10 starters, USC will have a brand new starting quarterback for the second year in a row.

Here's a look at how Sanchez's decision will affect some of the principle parties.

It means that Aaron Corp will enter winter workouts as the No. 1 quarterback. Corp started the year as Sanchez's back up, but he struggled with the added responsibility. When he got his second chance leading up to the Rose Bowl, though, Corp thrived.

He made plays with his feet and looked very efficient in the intermediate passing game. Without Sanchez and with some talented deep threats, Corp will need to work on getting the ball downfield to maximize the offense's firepower.

It means that Mitch Mustain will need to fight even harder. Mustain came to USC to play, and without Sanchez standing in his way, it's his time to step up. Mustain had been erratic and had too many off days while he was Sanchez's back up.

Maybe this is the right time for Mustain to show a little more fire, to prove to Carroll that he can lead the team. Mustain and Damian Williams have a long-standing relationship. This winter and spring, Mustain has to show that relationship is too strong to keep off the field.

It means that Garrett Green will have to continue to run the scout offense with precision. It'll be vital that the USC's young defense is tested at a high level throughout 2009, and it starts with Green on Howard Jones Field.

It means that Matt Barkley might not necessarily redshirt. The top-rated quarterback in the 2009 class will have to learn at an accelerated rate. It has taken quarterbacks like Sanchez, Corp and Mustain at least two years to learn the USC offense.

If Barkley is even going to sniff the field as a season, he's got to be smarter, work harder and perform better than any other first-year quarterback in Carroll's tenure.

It means that John Morton and Carl Smith… will have to earn their paychecks next season. It won't be as easy as it would've been, but nothing about winning championships should be easy.

Smith, in particular, will have to be the guy who steps up most, tutoring a group of talented, albeit under-experienced, quarterbacks. If Smith is half the coach he was in 2004, USC should be fine.

With Smith interviewing with the Cleveland Browns, retaining him is a must.

It means that Mark Sanchez is looking out for himself. Really, this decision came down to a pair of things. Either Sanchez could stay in school, risk his draft stock but become a more experienced player or he could leave now, striking while the proverbial iron is hot.

Clearly, he wanted to get to the league, despite advice from Carroll that contradicted Sanchez's wishes.

Now, he'll have a chance to be the first quarterback selected, and he'll reap the benefits of that - big contract, endorsement deals, etc. He'll also likely go to a bad team and be faced with big expectations.


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