LOS ANGELES (AP) -USC quarterback Mark Sanchez, who dislocated his left kneecap and was carted off the practice field earlier this month, is feeling much better and hopes to be ready when the No. 3 Trojans open the season at Virginia on Aug. 30.
``I'm optimistic about it, we're ahead of schedule,'' Sanchez said after taking some drops, throwing some passes and doing a bit of light jogging Monday. ``Everything today felt good. That's a good sign. If it were up to me, I'm playing. (But) I want to be ready for the whole season. It's a marathon, not a sprint.''
Sanchez, the projected starter for Southern California, was injured Aug. 8 after making a throw and landing awkwardly. He was taken for X-rays and an MRI, and team doctors said there is no ligament, cartilage or bone damage.
``It's painful to try to flex it too much, bend it all the way,'' Sanchez said. ``It's more uncomfortable than anything. The swelling is mostly gone. For me to play against Virginia, I've got to be back Monday or Tuesday of next week. It's very possible. I can't not practice all week, do my rehab, fly to Virginia and play. I'll say Tuesday at the latest.
``As far as I'm concerned, I'm going to play. That's the way I've got to look at it. We'll be fine either way.''
The Trojans will be heavily favored at Virginia, with or without Sanchez. Their other scholarship quarterbacks are third-year sophomore Mitch Mustain and redshirt freshman Aaron Corp. Mustain redshirted last season after transferring from Arkansas, where he started eight games as a freshman two years ago. The Razorbacks won all eight games.
Mustain and Corp have shared quarterback duties in Sanchez's absence, although Corp did most of the work with the first team in the past couple of days.
``He's getting close,'' Trojans coach Pete Carroll said of Sanchez. ``He's going to throw the ball to receivers for the first time (Tuesday). We'll see what happens. He's on course to make a recovery by next week.''
Carroll said there's no deadline for Sanchez to be able to practice so he can play at Virginia, but added: ``We'd love to have him for the week of preparation.''
Sanchez, a fourth-year junior, started three games last season in place of injured John David Booty. He completed 69 of 114 passes for 695 yards and seven touchdowns with five interceptions in seven games.
After playing at Virginia, USC will have a week off before facing No. 2 Ohio State on Sept. 13 at the Los Angeles Coliseum in an early-season showdown between two of the country's highest-ranked teams.

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