Dr. Saturday - NCAAF

As the offseason rolls on, so do the overheated storylines, from Mike Leach's contract situation to Lane Kiffin's self-immolating mouth to Andre Smith's combine flop, and so on, etc. Inevitably leading the buzz this month is Southern Cal's three-way quarterback derby, if only because the early returns made freshman Matt Barkley -- who, we keep being told, should be a high school senior right now -- seem like a legitimate part of the mix, and, three weeks later, he's still there. And how: Scott Wolf, who's been most adamant among the SC beat writers about Aaron Corp's narrow but unwavering lead in the competition, has a relatively glowing profile today about Barkley's maturity and ability to pick up the offense. The new golden boy has soured everyone on the old golden boy, Mitch Mustain, in just a few practices, and, Wolf says, made it USC's toughest QB competition since Matt Leinart edged Matt Cassell in 2003.

With the job, of course, comes readymade stardom, Heisman campaigns, a line of babes around the block, you name it. In his blog, though, Wolf pokes at the hype with one loaded question:

Is the quarterback derby really that important?

If you look at the Pete Carroll era, it looks like you can just plug in whoever starts at QB and the numbers stay fairly similar. Whether it's Aaron Corp or Matt Barkley, would the numbers change much next year with veteran receivers and a veteran offensive line?

"We don't really ask the quarterback to do that much,'' said a former offensive coach.

I've made this point before, since, under Carroll, every USC quarterback has been a carbon copy: All are big, strong-armed, relatively ponderous, pocket passers with trophy wings added onto their houses out high school -- Corp, Barkley and Mustain were all among the top three or four highest-rated quarterback recruits of their respective classes, as were Leinart, Carson Palmer, John David Booty and Mark Sanchez before them. Physically and stylistically, they're all the same. And statistically? It's even eerier:

That's near-robotic consistency. I think there's a slight but obvious dip with Booty, but within the system, does it really matter who USC decides to start at quarterback? As long as he's a 6'2", 220-pound, five-star slinger, no, it doesn't really matter when it comes to an impressive box score and another Pac-10 championship.

At the margins, though, everything matters, and that's where coaches even of teams as ludicrously stacked as SC earn their outrageous paychecks. The only national championship quarterback on that chart is Leinart, who was a Vince Young miracle away from winning three mythical titles in a row; parsing the numbers, his three seasons are also the most impressive, rivaled only by Sanchez, who had a strong case at the end of last year -- as strong as Leinart when SC topped the final AP poll with a practically identical resumé in 2003 -- for a shot at playing for a national crown. At the fringe of "very good" and "great," the difference between those quarterbacks and Booty becomes clearer, Whether or not it's even possible for them to show up in spring practice, the minute details that make that difference are where the decision will ultimately matter.

But, no, any of them will take the Trojans back to the Rose Bowl, obviously.

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