Once anointed as USC QB, Sanchez asserted himself

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- The anointing oil at USC is a powerful thing. It's transformative. At least, that's Pete Carroll's theory. And who's going to argue his track record?

That's why he and his offensive coaches decided to proclaim Mark Sanchez the Trojans' starting quarterback during the spring, instead of allowing a pecking order in his competition with Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp to remain a state secret until the late stages of fall camp.

Sanchez was winning the competition, but he needed a push to take over the huddle and win his teammates hearts and minds.

"Part of the reason for naming him is to see [leadership] come out," Carroll said. "He wasn't able to show it. He hadn't been anointed yet."

Telling Sanchez he was The Man, allowed him to embrace the role and lead without looking over his shoulder.

"If he was going to win the job -- and it looked like he was because he had so much more experience than the other guys -- then he might help our team get ready for the season better if he was put in that position then," said Carroll, shortly after his Trojans were picked at Pac-10 Media Day to win their seventh consecutive conference title.

Sanchez, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior, was everybody's All-American coming out of high school in 2004. One Pac-10 coach said he was the best quarterback he'd ever seen on film. That sort of pedigree doesn't make for a good backup, however, and Sanchez struggled with his role behind John David Booty the previous two seasons.

That's probably part of the reason his performance was uneven when he stepped in for an injured Booty a year ago. He started three games, tossing five interceptions and seven touchdown passes, and often seemed to be pressing.

The difference in spring was striking, at least according to an observer who often gets a close look at USC quarterbacks during practices.

Said linebacker Brian Cushing, "First of all, [I saw] great leadership. Even on the days when we're getting after the offense, he's the one who keeps talking and doesn't let down. On top of that, he's a playmaker, really unlike any I've seen. His pocket presence, his escapability -- he makes plays happen that shouldn't happen."

Carroll isn't surprised by how Sanchez embraced taking leadership. He's seen the transformation before.

"When we told Matt Leinart [he was the starting quarterback], there was a light in his eye instantly," Carroll said. "And I remember he said, 'You're never going to regret this.'"

Suffice it to say, that anointing worked out fairly well.