ACC: Mark Sanchez

Posted by's Heather Dinich

If people are content with the ACC being a defensive league, they will have to be content with it being an average league.

If the conference is going to take the next step, it needs to recruit better quarterbacks.

Yes, defenses win championships, but in college football there are two components essential to winning and winning big -- offensive and defensive line play, and a standout quarterback. Save for Matt Ryan last year, the ACC hasn't exactly been a quarterback factory. Michael Vick and Ken Dorsey don't count.

In this decade, you can count Ryan, Matt Schaub (Virginia, 2004 NFL draft), Philip Rivers (NC State, 2004 draft), Ron Curry (UNC, 2002 draft), Charlie Whitehurst (Clemson, 2006 draft), Adrian McPherson, (FSU 2005 draft), and Joe Hamilton (Georgia Tech, 2000 draft) as the best the ACC had to offer at the position. The last time Florida State was truly great, it had two Heisman Trophy quarterbacks in Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke.

This is the conference that brought Drew Weatherford and Sean Glennon to its media day in August, two quarterbacks who, through no fault of their own, were used as backups this season.

Can Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor, Miami's Jacory Harris, FSU's Christian Ponder or NC State's Russell Wilson emerge as the league's next great quarterback? They're all good and have potential, but none of them seem to have the true wow factor that will bump them up to that elite level. Of course, they're not all running Mike Leach's offense, either. Some of the offenses in the ACC are so simplistic, it's hard for quarterbacks to flourish.

Many of the coaches in the league have committed to a defensive philosophy, and there's nothing wrong with that -- just look at how the Ravens, the Steelers and the Eagles advanced as far as they did. But an elite quarterback backed by, say, a Virginia Tech-caliber defense would do wonders to truly separate a team like the Hokies from the rest of the pack. Florida won the national title because it was ranked among the top 20 FBS schools in offense AND defense.

If you look at the teams that were in contention for the national title this year, they all had one thing in common -- excellent quarterback play. Mark Sanchez, Tim Tebow, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy -- all ranked among the top six in the country in pass efficiency. You have to scroll down the list to No. 41 until you find Russell Wilson, the first ACC quarterback listed.

Forget Heisman winner, the ACC needs to start with a legitimate Heisman contender at quarterback.

Heisman talk: Wells or Sanchez?

September, 2, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
 Mark Sanchez and USC rolled to a victory in Week 1.

I'm used to sticking out like an Ohio State fan in the Big House. So it came as no surprise that among all of the folks at ESPN who weigh in on this, I was the lone person to put Mark Sanchez at the top of my Heisman list.

And I'm OK with that.

The one I would question, though, is a first-place vote for running back Beanie Wells. Yes, he had an incredible performance before he hurt his foot, but how do you favor a player wearing a protective boot when you don't know how long he'll be out?

We'll see if Sanchez is still leading the list after USC plays the Buckeyes, but for now that's my pick and I'm sticking to it.

Even if I'm sticking out.

USC's Sanchez '100 percent'

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

 AP Photo
 USC quarterback Mark Sanchez led the Trojans in a convincing 52-7 win over Virginia on Saturday.

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The soft black Bio Slim brace protecting USC quarterback Mark Sanchez's left kneecap looked more like an accessory on Saturday than it did a necessity.

It certainly didn't prevent him from completing 26-of-35 passes for 338 yards, three touchdowns and one interception.

Sanchez , who dislocated his kneecap earlier this month, he felt "100 percent" following the Trojans' 52-7 drubbing of Virginia.

He looked it, too. Sanchez was able to move around in the pocket, get the ball downfield, and manage the offense.

"That was the big question mark coming into the game," Sanchez said. "... When the first news came out four weeks, (the doctors and trainers) didn't want to hear it. That's the kind of attitude I like and I'm glad they got me back out. I moved when I needed to and was really happy out there."

USC coach Pete Carroll said Sanchez has been ready since he was cleared to play on Tuesday.

"He was fine," Carroll said. "The recovery was extraordinary. The guys working with him ... those guys did a great job. Every step of the way they knew what they were doing, they took care of him. Mark was diligent about working and it wasn't a factor. It just wasn't. Once he was back, he was back. He had to prove it to himself as well. He moved around beautifully in the pocket. His resourcefulness back there is what gives you that second chance."

Not that USC needed one.

"USC was a big, powerful, fast team with superior quarterback play today," Virginia coach Al Groh said. "We were anything but big and fast and our quarterback turned the ball over too many times."

So much for Groh's surprise element at quarterback.

Peter Lalich completed 18-of-35 passes for 155 yards and one interception and he was sacked twice -- something Sanchez didn't have to worry about.

The Trojans dominated every phase of the game, and it all started up front, where USC's offensive line had no problem blocking against a defensive line that struggled to replace Chris Long and defensive end Jeffrey Fitzgerald.

"These guys played beautifully," Carroll said of his offensive linemen. " There were a number of times in this game when Mark had forever back there."

How much time?

"A lot," Sanchez said, laughing. "A lot. That's good. Coach (Pat) Ruel always calls it, in practice he says, 'We're cooking steaks back there because we've got that much time,' and that's the way it felt. The whole line takes pride in that, not letting me get hit and me having ample time to make the right decision and get the ball out of my hands. It felt good. I love that feeling."

Sanchez played conservatively against Virginia, and will speed up the offense in coming weeks. Odds are, he'll have less time to think against the Ohio State defense. But yes, how smoothly everything went for Sanchez and his knee today will only help with his confidence and preparation for the Buckeyes.

"I can keep doing my rehab, that rehab stuff never stops it's going to go all season long," he said. "The doctors and I wouldn't have it any other way. It's exciting to know I've got one under my belt with this whole knee deal and I'm back to 100 percent. I feel good and we're ready to start preparing for Ohio State."

USC at UVA: Halftime update

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- I'm sure most of you are watching this game on ABC and yes, it's as bad as it looks in person.

So much for USC having to adjust to this 3-4 defense. Quarterback Mark Sanchez has had way too much time to make his throws and isn't in too much danger of getting sacked today. A fourth-down attempt early shows they're confident against the Cavs. USC, though, is bringing some heat.

The Trojans' defense is much faster and for the most part stifling Virginia, which looks like it has three new starters on its offensive line (it does). They've got no ground game going, which obviously makes it even tougher to get the passing game going.

Considering he's the only one with any game experience, it's no surprise that Peter Lalich is the starting quarterback for Virginia, and he has gotten better under pressure as the game has progressed. Still, Virginia's lone points so far were aided by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty on USC.

Since 2007, Virginia has been one of the luckiest teams I've ever seen. Even as they're losing here, they're catching breaks. Like the fumbled punt that long snapper Danny Aiken recovered. Didn't matter, though. Yannick Reyering, a soccer star in his college football debut, ended the drive with a missed 46-yard field goal attempt that sailed wide right.

The fans booed Al Groh's decision to punt on fourth-and-four with 44 seconds left to go in the half. They might want to wait until Virginia improves upon its 1-of-7 third-down conversions first.

What they're saying about USC

August, 30, 2008

Posted by's Heather Dinich

I'm on my way to Charlottesville this morning, but I thought you guys might be interested in a few stories previewing the USC/Virginia game from the West Coast:

* With only one full-time returning starter on USC's offensive line, Virginia should have a small element of surprise with its 3-4 defense.

* At USC, the players on their defense work to earn the title of "Strip King," and no, it's not what you're thinking.

* Odds are you can find more than you'd like to know about USC quarterback Mark Sanchez right here.

* USC was looking for a little privacy, though, during its final practice before today's game. They found some at a private school in Charlottesville.

Posted by's Heather Dinich

Let's keep it real.

Even if USC quarterback Mark Sanchez doesn't play against Virginia, the Trojans still win the quarterback battle, and in turn, should win this game.

By a lot.

While Al Groh and his Secret Society of Quarterbacks have spent all summer making sure the Cavaliers' starter for their Aug. 30 season opener against Southern California remains a mystery, one thing remains certain -- none of them have the starting experience of USC's quarterbacks.

And Sanchez only has three starts.

His backup, third-year sophomore Mitch Mustain, started eight games two years ago as a freshman at Arkansas.

Groh's options include Peter Lalich, a sophomore who played in eight games last season behind Jameel Sewell; Scott Deke, who hasn't thrown a pass in a college game, or Marc Verica, who hasn't seen the field on a Saturday yet.

The only way something crazy in this game happens is if USC looks past Virginia to Ohio State.