By Chris Le
Gritting his teeth while half-heartedly saying goodbye to his former starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, Pete Carroll sounded like a little kid who didn’t get his way. It was the oddest sight, too. Borderline embarrassing even. I almost didn’t believe it was Pete. Usually calm and classy, it was the first time, outside of the sidelines, I’ve ever seen the USC head coach peeved.
But can you blame him?
USC is already facing a laundry list of changes in a daunting 2009 season.
Firstly, the schedule will be tougher. They essentially play the same teams they faced in 2008 but this time, they’ll be on the road for the big ones (at Ohio State, at Cal, at Notre Dame, at Oregon, at Arizona State).
And coach Carroll will face this gauntlet without longtime offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (not to mention big-time recruiter) Steve Sarkisian, who is now running the show at Washington. He will be sorely missed in Pasadena.
But worst of all, the vaunted defense that wrecked havoc on the Pac-10 will be overhauled and might be the team’s weakness in the upcoming year. USC, of course, doesn’t rebuild but reloads–or so they say. All those blue-chip recruits haven’t really panned out. When does talent turn into results? Only time will tell.
Now, thanks to Sanchez’s departure, they’ll have to integrate a new starting quarterback. The most coveted position in college football will belong to either Arkansas transfer Mitch Mustain, sophomore Aaron Corp, senior Garrett Green or highly-touted incoming freshman Matt Barkley.
Many message board nerds like myself have this vision of Barkley arriving to campus, immediately winning the starting spot and leading USC to the title.
I’ll be the first to say that Barkley has all the tools of a Heisman-winning quarterback–even more so than anyone on the current roster. He’s the best quarterback prospect I’ve seen in years. But he won’t see any meaningful playing time next year. The learning curve is too steep and even though Barkley will enroll early, the playbook is massive and intricate. He’ll need more than one semester to catch up. Plus, while the arm strength, accuracy and touch are already there, I question Barkley’s decision making when under pressure. Just check out his 23-18 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his senior season at Mater Dei high school.
The starting spot will either go to Mustain or Corp. Mustain is the more polished passer; Corp is the better athlete who can make plays with his feet. At this point, I have no idea who’ll win out. Early in the 2008 season, Corp beat out Mustain for the backup job, only to see Mustain take over halfway through the year. But if you held a gun to my head, I’d go with Mustain.