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The Sarkisian Factor

As Assistant head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Steve Sarkisian starts his second year in that position the big question will be has he learned from his mistake from last season?

Sarkisian is a real up and comer according to some:

USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian is a hot head-coaching prospect and runs a unit that -- if recruiting rankings are to be believed -- is as talented annually as any in the nation.

Of course, when an offense is perceived as owning elite talent, the margin for error is small and fans are quick to criticize when things aren't perfect. More than a few believe the Trojans 32.6 points and 434.9 yards per game in 2007 qualified as underachieving, regardless of the critical injuries at many key positions.

In regards to a small margin for error Miller would be correct in his assumptions. I think its a bit premature to consider Sark a hot prospect, not after only one season under his belt of running the offense on his own. I think he needs a few more years at this position with better than above average results to be able to be a hot prospect.

The two things that stand out are of course the decision to keep Booty in the Stanford game with a broken finger and the his failure to act decisively on the play where McKnight was stuffed on 4th and 1 in the Oregon game.

As Sarkisian stated:

Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said he regretted not calling a timeout before a controversial fourth-and-1 call at Oregon's 12-yard line that backfired when McKnight lost a yard and the Trojans turned the ball over on downs.

Sarkisian said he saw Oregon's defense shift to the side where the play went. USC believes the Ducks got confused by their formation and accidentally shifted to one side.

"When I look back at it, I should have called a timeout from the sideline," Sarkisian said.

Ironically, the shift created a gaping hole because no one lined up against the right guard, but Sarkisian said the play USC ran did not really allow for an audible.

Sarkisian said he realizes when USC loses, he becomes a target of criticism.

I am not going belabor the past but how he handles these sorts of decisions this season will be telling and will go a long way to making him a hot prospect.

SC fans have railed against Sark off and on last season to the point that even the OCR is asking the question...What do you think of Steve Sarkisian?

[B]ut it seems Steve Sarkisian recently has picked up another title, one not so flattering: Pete Carroll’s friend.

People have been quick to note USC’s failure to win a national title since the departure of former offensive coordinator Norm Chow, who is now at UCLA. Under Sarkisian, USC ranked second in the Pac-10 in scoring offense and third in total offense.

It averaged about 32 points a game, up two points from the previous year. Yet questions about the play-calling and personnel use abound.

Those questions will persist until the fans see consistent dominance over their opponents. Is it realistic? I don't know but SC continues to rack up top recruiting classes with almost little effort, while some of their wins over the past couple of season have been lack luster. SC has a taste for dominance after the Leinart/Bush era, we will never see that again but I also think it is acceptable to expect SC to beat Stanford and to lose to Oregon. We should have beat Oregon that day but they were headed to the MNC before Dixon went down so losing to them no matter how painful should not make us feel ashamed.

I actually agree with Colin Cowherd that play calling is over rated. You recruit the talent and let them go out and play but that doesn't mean you should hamstring them by recognizing an adjustment and then doing nothing to counter it. I am not pining for Norm Chow, it easy to want to have what you have lost but Chow had his warts too. Sark is it and I am behind him not matter how much he leaves me scratching my head at times but he needs to progress.

Pete Carroll thinks he will:

[T]hat didn’t stop a reporter last week from asking Pete Carroll whether Sarkisian had improved as a play caller as last season progressed. Carroll disagreed with the premise.

“I thought he did good the whole time,” Carroll said. “I loved the way he called plays. He was right in line with the philosophy.”

Carroll did concede that Sarkisian would “feel more comfortable as the year goes on. There’s no doubt. But … he’s been running games for a long time. It’s not as much of a burden as you might think. Being a quarterback, thinking as a play caller, it was a real easy transition for him.”

Despite Carroll’s endorsement and last season’s finishing kick, Sarkisian will face considerable scrutiny again this fall. As potentially potent as USC’s youthful offense looks on paper, it suffers by comparison to the Trojans’ veteran-laden defense. And that likely will be a season-long theme.

No matter what, if he progresses without too many bone head moves then things should be fine if not then, right or wrong, there will be a lot of people who will want Sark's head on a pike!