LOS ANGELES (AP) -Southern California was known as Tailback U. in the 1960s and '70s under coach John McKay, with Mike Garrett and O.J. Simpson each winning the Heisman Trophy and Clarence Davis, Anthony Davis and Ricky Bell achieving stardom.
Since Pete Carroll arrived as coach in 2001 to inspire the Trojans to even greater heights, USC has become Quarterback U.
While Mark Sanchez is proud to be a member of the exclusive fraternity, he admits to considering something his predecessors didn't choose - an early exodus to join the pros. Sanchez's performance against No. 6 Penn State in Thursday's Rose Bowl game just might determine his future.
``It's always an option. I've put myself in position to have options,'' Sanchez said Tuesday. ``There are plenty of factors. I'll worry about it after the game. I've put off the decision until after the game.''
ez, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound fourth-year junior, put himself in position to leave with an outstanding season in his first year as a starter, completing 64.4 percent of his passes for 2,794 yards and 30 touchdowns with 10 interceptions while leading No. 5 USC to an 11-1 record and its seventh straight Pac-10 championship.
And he's done so with a team that has taken a more conservative offensive approach than in recent years while relying on a senior-laden defense that's allowed just 7.8 points per game.
``Mark's grown every game,'' wide receiver Patrick Turner said. ``It was really cool to see him grow. He's done a great job all year long, he's grown into one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.''
Sanchez, who turned 22 last month, hasn't had the acclaim of Heisman Trophy finalists Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or Tim Tebow, but in terms of talent, Sanchez is an NFL prototype.
``I think he's had a great season,'' Carroll said. ``He's been challenged by so many big opportunities. If he's back another year, he'll be one of the best players in the country.''
Sanchez has said he'll consult with Carroll and his family about the possibility of giving up his final year of eligibility to make himself available for the NFL draft. The deadline is Jan. 15.
rro Bowman, Penn State's leading tackler. ``I think he knows the system and has it down well.''
Carson Palmer was the USC quarterback when Carroll arrived, and he won the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 2002. Matt Leinart succeeded Palmer, and guided the Trojans to a 37-2 record in the next three seasons, winning the Heisman in his junior year and finishing third behind teammate Reggie Bush as a senior.
Then, it was John David Booty's turn, and while he didn't have the numbers of Palmer or Leinart, he was quite successful, going 20-3 as a starter. Sanchez is 13-2 in that role, including three games last year when Booty couldn't play because of a broken finger.
``There's pressure. People expect success here,'' Sanchez said. ``That's why you come to USC, you want to be great. It's stuff that comes with the territory. It's been nothing but fun.''
USC and Penn State both came close to earning berths in the BCS championship game. Like Oklahoma and Florida, each lost just once, but the overall strength of the Pac-10 and Big Ten didn't measure up to the Southeastern Conference and Big 12, and that was enough to deny the Trojans and Nittany Lions a shot at the title.
Sanchez has accepted that reality.
s, it's warm. This is a tremendous opportunity for us. I can't wait to get out on the field. My family's going to be there, my best friend from Colorado's going to be there.
``It will be special. Coach Carroll knows how to prepare us for a big game.''
Sanchez has heard the talk that the game figures to be low scoring because the defenses are so strong. Penn State has given up just 12.4 points per game to rank fourth in the country. USC is No. 1 in scoring defense.
``The score questions are tough,'' Sanchez said. ``I don't know what to tell you. It could be 50-49, it could be 10-3. It's going to be whatever type of game it shakes out to be. Our team's ready for it.''

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