Mustain will not be eligible to play for the Trojans until the fall of 2008 but in many ways his arrival on campus puts an end to one of the strangest chapters in recent college football memory during his time at the University of Arkansas.
A schoolboy legend from nearby Springdale HS, Mustain had arrived at the Fayetteville campus with expectations that bordered on the extreme. After all, Mitch had led Springdale to the state title as a senior and was named the National Player of the Year by Gatorade, USA Today and Parade Magazine.
When the Trojans visited Arkansas last year, one of the first things I remember doing when the Hogs took the field for warm-ups was to keep an eye out for Mustain. When I finally spotted him, the first thing I thought was "that's a big boy". He is listed at 6-3, 205 but carries himself bigger than that on the football field. When he finally got into the game against the Trojans during the second half, he didn't waste much time in driving his team down the field for a touchdown. He finished the game against his future teammates by going 4-6 for 47 yards and a rushing touchdown (he also had an interception).
Mustain was inserted into the Arkansas starting line-up for the next eight games and won them all but somewhere along the way things took a turn in a different direction. Before too long, he had lost his job, the program became embroiled in controversy, his former HS teammate wide receiver Damian Williams chose to transfer (he also ended up at USC) and eventually Mitch came to the conclusion that he would be better off elsewhere as well.
What should have been the stuff of dreams, local boy goes to big time school and leads them to glory, was now in the past and the details of what happened certainly been documented enough elsewhere that we don't need to review them here today. All we need to know is that the Trojans are getting a quarterback who has put together a 60-2 record as a starting quarterback dating back to his junior high school days (for the record, the only losses came in 8th grade and 11th grade).
Of course, there is the question "where does he fit with the Trojan program at quarterback?" and it's a pretty solid question. Right now, Mark Sanchez is established as the back-up to John David Booty heading into the 2007 season and it stands to reason that Mark will get plenty of opportunities this fall for playing time. Assuming he does well, Mark would be the clear cut leader to replace Booty in spring of 2008. Mustain would also be competing for that open job after less than a year on campus and he would be joined by Aaron Corp (arriving this fall as a true freshman) and Garrett Green (a sophomore who could ultimately end up at safety if needed).
Recent history has shown that if a quarterback waits his turn in the USC system, the results are pretty good. Matt Leinart waited for two years behind Carson Palmer, who won the Heisman Trophy as a senior, and Matt ended up with a Heisman of his own to go along with a pair of national titles. John David Booty waited for three years behind Leinart before a Rose Bowl winning junior season that has set him up as one of the favorites for the pre-season Heisman discussions as the leader of a Trojan team that is expected to compete for the national championship once again. Sanchez is about to begin his third year of watching and waiting, a process which I'm sure is difficult but which has to be made easier when you watch the guys ahead of you reaching the pinnacle of the college football world.
This was definitely not the easy route for Mustain to take. It was widely assumed that the University of Tulsa was a possible destination, primarily because of the presence of his former HS coach (and Arkansas OC) Gus Malzahn, and you have to imagine that the road to a starting job would have been much easier playing for the Golden Hurricanes and he likely would have put up huge numbers in a familiar system on his way to the NFL.
Instead, he chose to come to USC and compete and it's not like he will be competing against chopped liver. Sanchez is also a former National Player of the Year and Corp was named the top quarterback in the state last year ahead of the guy that many expect to be the savior of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. There is a very real possibility that Mustain could never start a game at USC, a fact he acknowledged during a visit to the Trojan campus when he told the LA Times that even quarterbacks who don't start at USC can end up in the NFL (a reference to Matt Cassel, a quaterback entering his third year with the New England Patriots after throwing only 33 passes in his USC career and never starting a game).
Mustain made this decision because he knows this is the highest level of football and he wants to test himself against the best. For the Trojans, they just improved their roster with a former National Player of the Year and that's not something that happens everyday. There is an old saying "the rich get richer" and let's all hope that applies to both sides today with the arrival of Mitch Mustain to USC.