Pete Carroll doesn't have a quarterback controversy. The rest of us do.
The USC coach is handling this little wrinkle as he handles most others. With a smile and a shrug.
This is a no-brainer. It is not a matter of who, but of when. This is John David Booty's football team. It has been since last fall and will continue to be, as soon as the broken middle finger on his passing hand is healed well enough for him to fire away again.
The Mark Sanchez arguments are compelling only if your vision stops at your nose.
Of course he is a good quarterback, but he is next season's good quarterback. He has two years left then, and assuming he can beat out Mitch Mustain, the razor-sharp former Razorback who is currently spending his transfer redshirt year on the scout team, Sanchez will have gained nicely from the game experience during Booty's injury.
You think this is a quarterback controversy? Wait until next August and Sanchez versus Mustain.
USC's so-called quarterback controversy is the sports story of the week around here. Carroll won't be making this decision in a vacuum.
He will get help from thousands of fans, all of whom have vast knowledge of how to call radio talk shows and send e-mails. He will also get help from broadcasters with vast knowledge of turning on microphones and sportswriters with vast knowledge of typing.
Monday afternoon, USC's practice was spirited, Sanchez took most of the snaps and ran all the plays where throwing a pass was involved. Booty, refraining from even taking snaps to his injured finger, started with the ball in his hands behind the center and ran a few plays where handoffs and pitchouts were the call.
Afterward, Carroll met reporters with a smile and a shrug.
The rest of the week will go as follows:
Booty will throw and then report back Wednesday on how he feels. If that goes well, he will practice Wednesday and Thursday, probably sharing more of the snaps, and Carroll and his assistants will watch closely. It could be they will know by Friday or not even until Saturday, just before the game at Oregon.
And it could be that the quarterback controversy lingers into next week.
"A broken bone takes four to six weeks to heal," Carroll said Monday. "His may heal in three, or it may take longer."
Eventually, the ball should be handed back to Booty. He earned that last season. He earned it in this season's 4-0 start. He shouldn't lose it over two inexplicable losses, one against UCLA last year that will have fans of that rivalry scratching their heads for the next decade and one against lowly Stanford in which he tried to play despite the broken finger.
Booty threw 29 touchdown passes last year, including four in a Rose Bowl victory that not only beat Michigan, but badly embarrassed the Wolverines.
After wins, he handles himself nicely, with the poise and perspective of a leader. More important, he does the same after losses. Asked about fans booing during the Stanford game, he said, "I would have booed too."
Sanchez has done just what he is there to do this year. He has filled in when needed, kept the store open until the owner got back. Depending on Mustain, his time will come. He has won two games, one against an average Arizona team and another against El Toro High School, masquerading as Notre Dame. (No offense meant to El Toro.)
Sanchez advocates are getting carried away with that 38-0.
They are also falling in love with his gunslinger arm. They say he is bigger, stronger and faster than Booty, and they might be right.
But they are ignoring the intangibles, the value of having somebody calling signals who has been there a lot, faced screaming crowds of 80,000 and late-game deficits and made the flash judgments that turn a loss into a win. Under pressure, Booty is a cool customer, a coach's dream.
We don't know about Sanchez yet, and if Booty is healthy, we have no reason to learn this year.
Right now, we know Sanchez can pick apart a bunch of slow, disorganized Catholic school boys and celebrate heartily with his teammates on the sidelines. We also know that coaches, especially control-minded ones such as Carroll, worry about gunslingers firing ill-advised bullets at key moments in big games.
And if Carroll needs a tiebreaker, which he shouldn't, the issue of Sanchez's off-field judgment factors in there somewhere, even though Carroll would never admit it.
In April 2006, Sanchez was arrested on suspicion of sexual assault. A couple of months later, the district attorney's office found there was insufficient evidence, the woman involved left school, and life went on for Sanchez, which was fair, because nothing was proved. Still, he had been drinking that night, was underage and used a false ID to get into the bar.
There are elements of boys will be boys on the drinking and the ID. On the other, there is mystery and maybe for some fans even some fear and loathing.
Sanchez won't necessarily hear about that night for the rest of his football career, but it remains germane at this, the first juncture in which he stands on the doorstep of taking over one of college football's most revered positions, quarterback at USC.
Next year, it may be easier to cut him some slack, if Mustain does.
This year, it is Booty's team, and as soon as he is ready to take it over again, there is a national title still dangling, waiting to be taken with a few more crazy turns in a season already full of them. There might even be a late Heisman Trophy run left for Booty.
Ask Carroll about those prospects and he will smile and shrug.
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Booty or Sanchez
A statistical comparison between the two USC quarterbacks this season:
*--* BOOTY G COMP ATT PCT YDS TD INT 5 113 175 64.6 1,239 12 8 SANCHEZ G COMP ATT PCT YDS TD INT 4 42 72 58.3 388 5 3 On the Web: Columnist Bill Dwyre (for senior John David Booty) and Bill Plaschke (for sophomore Mark Sanchez) disagree on who should start at quarterback. Cast your vote at latimes.com/sports. *--*