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Sanchez Takes the Helm

Mark Sanchez takes the helm as USC's official starting QB today against UVA. Like his predecessors before him there are a ton of expectations being placed on his shoulders. Both Matt Leinart and John David Booty faced the same level of scrutiny but neither had the benefit of starting any games prior to their official placement as the starting QB. Their only "experience" was in garbage time.

But Booty and Leinart had the benefit of a pretty experienced offensive line, that's not something that Sanchez has as the 2008 season gets underway. The three games that Sanchez did start in place of the injured John David Booty in 2007 are invaluable as he leads SC into another season with high expectations.

Sanchez, a fourth-year junior, might be more seasoned than his predecessors were to take over as starter. And he is hoping that gives him a head start on furthering their legacy.

[...]Sanchez, 21, is a veteran by comparison. He started three midseason games in place of Booty last year, pulling out a victory over Arizona, picking apart Notre Dame and nearly engineering a comeback victory at Oregon.

The audition eliminates much of the uncertainty that accompanied the transitions from Palmer to Leinart and from Leinart to Booty.

We know he can lead and we know he can win. We also know that he can make mistakes like he did late in the game against Oregon last season. Missing 2 1/2 weeks due to a freak injury also adds to the level of concern of just how efficient the offense will be today as they open up the season against UVA.

But what Sanchez shows up today will set the tone as to how he has progressed since being named starter.

If there is one trait that determines whether Sanchez keeps the job this season, it is poise. If Sanchez keeps his cool, he is likely to play like he did against Notre Dame last season, when he completed 21 of 38 passes for 235 yards and four touchdowns. Or will he be the quarterback who forced two passes that were intercepted in a loss at Oregon?

Sanchez admits he sometimes tries to make too much happen, and since last spring he worked to play under control.

"I'm trying to channel it in the right direction. I want to be the hardest person on myself," Sanchez said. "(The coaches) are the ones to pull me off because they see when I'm upset with myself."

Having a fire in your belly is a good thing but it needs to be held in check. Wanting to perform at an optimum level is a lot different than actually doing it. This reminds me of an interview that Max Weinberg (Bruce Sprinsteen's drummer) gave about performing on stage. He said something to the affect that you can't let the emotion of the moment overtake your performance... more to the point you can't let your hands play faster than the rest of the band. Sanchez needs to do that today keep it all in check and not let his emotions get ahead of what is actually happening on the field.

For Sanchez this journey started long before he arrived at SC.

Mark Sanchez couldn't have known then how much his father's teachings would help him now. Kids never know.

Think of Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid." Only after he had endured the trials of apprenticeship did Daniel realize that "wax on" and "wax off" weren't menial tasks, they were training maneuvers.

Every day before they left for school or he dropped them off somewhere, Nick Sanchez would tell his sons: "Be a leader today." And Saturday, the youngest son, Mark, is the starting quarterback for USC, about to guide the Trojans into their season opener at Virginia.

This is Sanchez's team. He now gets to put his stamp on where this team goes this season. His time is now and he needs to make the most of it and put all the doubts and questions to rest.

I remember when Mitch Mustain transferred from Arkansas. The questions were all about how Sanchez would do with the added pressure and how he would respond with a pretty experienced QB coming in to fight for the starting job. Those concerns and questions have now been answered and he gets to show us exactly what he is made of without having to look over his shoulder.

There are no givens in life and Sanchez has had to deal with share of controversy but that goes away today. Sanchez can only worry about his side of the ball the defense can take care of itself, an efficient, solid win will go a long way to further building his confidence and relax the nerves of the fans who see a lot of questions heading into the season.