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Never Too Late to Play the "What If" Card

Pete Carroll did something in 2006 that most people tend to forget. Something that probably cost USC a national championship. Something that prevented the Trojans from finishing the 2008 season undefeated despite its exceedingly stifling defense.

That was starting John David Booty over Mark Sanchez.

Yet the decision to give Booty the nod over Sanchez was a perfectly logical one. The Louisiana native was a decorated quarterback recruit, had graduated high school early to enroll at 'SC, and spent three years in the system, while Sanchez was just a redshirt freshman and had even been arrested on suspicion of sexual assault in the spring of 2006.

In short, Carroll decided to take experience over upside. And after winning two national titles in three years, it would've been tough for anyone to criticize Carroll for anything, much less having Booty line up under center.

Even reflecting upon Booty's Gerald Ford-esque 2-year tenure, it's hard not to be at least somewhat satisfied. After all, he won two Rose Bowls, compiled a 9-0 record against top-25 teams, and finished 4th in school history in touchdown passes with 55. All those indicate a successful collegiate career. So, what's the problem?

It's been six years since USC won a national championship, and for a school with 11 national titles, that's a long time. Long enough were fans get antsy, start questioning the coach, and just shrug when he eventually decides to leave town.

Yes, the irritating part for many of us is that Sanchez probably should've started back in 2006. No, the results wouldn't have been pretty in the early-goings, but in terms of the long run and betterment of the program, it made a lot of sense.

USC probably wouldn't have won eleven games in 2006 or even a Pac-10 title. The Rose Bowl likely would have been out of the equation as well.

But the forecasts for the following two seasons, 2007 and 2008, would have been much brighter.

With a year of game experience under his belt, Sanchez probably would have taken care of business against 44-point underdog Stanford in 2007 and maybe even upended an Oregon Ducks team led by a healthy Dennis Dixon, enabling USC to earn a BCS title bid.

Maybe 2008 would have turned out better as well. With Sanchez entering his 3rd year as a starter, the likelihood of a September road loss to Oregon State would have dropped as well.

It's hard to know what would have happened. Maybe another crystal ball would have found its way into Heritage Hall, or maybe not.

But we do know this. The future of Matt Barkley will let us know whether Carroll made the right call back in 2006. Barkley, who looked far more mature against Hawaii after a year of starting experience, is expected to have a monster 2010 campaign.

The funny thing about Barkley is that Carroll didn't give him the Sanchez treatment. Despite valuing the experience of Booty, he didn't feel the same way about Mitch Mustain or really even Aaron Corp. He chose upside in deciding to start Barkley last season in the hope that it would pay off down the line.

We'll never know what would have happened exactly had Carroll decided to go with Sanchez back in '06, but at the very least, the coming seasons for Barkley will shed some light on whether Uncle Pete made the right call in tabbing Booty as the starter.

Follow Joey on twitter @Joey_Kaufman