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Monday, August 18, 2008
QB intrigue continues at USC

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Ted Miller

LOS ANGELES -- USC coach Pete Carroll told reporters Sunday who he thinks is going to start at Virginia on Aug. 30.

"It could be Mitch [Mustain], Aaron [Corp] or Mark [Sanchez]," he said. "We don't know yet. Right now Aaron and Mitch are so close that the difference is not that obvious -- to you guys or anybody that's watching."

The key new piece of information: When asked if he thought injured starter Mark Sanchez, who's nursing a dislocated knee cap, would take snaps this week, Carroll said, "Probably not." Then he added that Sanchez could "surprise everybody" and return this weekend.

In other words, the early optimism that Sanchez could be fully recovered by the opener has been watered down just a bit, and Corp, a redshirt freshman, has narrowed the gap between himself and Mustain, a sophomore.

Mustain, the No. 2 coming out of spring practices, has been unable to step up and assert himself with Sanchez sitting in a golf cart, watching practice. That's allowed Corp, who said his comfort level with the Trojans offense has improved, to chip away at the gap between the two over the 10 days since Sanchez hurt his knee, including outplaying Mustain in Saturday's scrimmage at the Coliseum.

"I've had days where I've looked really good and I've had days I've struggled," Mustain said. "I have no idea how they've evaluated it."

Carroll made one clear evaluation with reporters after Monday's practice. On his own, he brought up an interception Mustain threw as he scrambled out of the pocket.

"Those types of decisions are game-crushers," Carroll said.

The emphasis for the Trojans defense during the preseason is forcing turnovers. But Carroll doesn't want his quarterbacks to make things easy on them.

With a defense that's going to be tough to consistently score on, Carroll wants his QB to manage the game, not get fancy.

"A big part of this evaluation is who's ready to handle the game and make good choices and give us a chance to win the football game," Carroll said. "We're not looking for our quarterback to be spectacular and carry the whole load. We never have."

On the other hand, if Carroll has to choose between Mustain and Corp with Sanchez sidelined, he likely will look favorably on Mustain's experience, which includes eight starts as a true freshman at Arkansas.

It's appears, however, that Carroll wants to push Mustain toward more consistency, and if Mustain doesn't respond to said pushing, Carroll's prepared to go with Corp.

"Everything is still up in the air," Carroll said. "There's no rush yet."