The Rise and Fall....and Potential Rise Of Mitch Mustain

Paul SalmanSenior Analyst ISeptember 4, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 25:  Quarterback Mitch Mustain #16 of the USC Trojans at the line of scrimmage during the spring game on April 25, 2009 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, California.  The cardinal team won 16-10.  (Photo by Jeff Golden/Getty Images)

From Necessary Roughness

What does Mitch Mustain need to do to get back to where he was in 2006? Where did he go wrong on his path to an NFL career? Where can he look now for inspiration?

Not too long ago he was known as the most decorated quarterback in high school history and a must for any college football program in the nation. Not too long ago he was the quarterback of the Arkansas Razorbacks and had an 8-0 record in the SEC.

Not too long ago it was only a matter of time before he decides to make the jump to the NFL—Today, the story is much different.

The story took a turn on November, 4 2006 when Coach Houston Nutt abruptly benched Mustain in favor of sophomore Casey Dick. Nutt cited experience as the primary reason, however this is obviously not true since Mustain had been 8-0 to that point.

Behind this great start to his career was what seems to be an underlying battle between player and coach.

During the recruiting process, Mitch Mustain questioned the offense of Arkansas and its “sophistication.” He was also quoted as saying, Arkansas "would have a better chance of getting me" if Nutt were fired.

Arkansas eventually hired Gus Malzahn, who coached Mustain at Springdale High School in Arkansas, as their offensive coordinator. This eventually helped The Razorbacks land Mustain who figured Malzahn would run the offense, thus bringing his spread scheme which Mustain was familiar with and would allow him to really excel.

This did not happen and Houston Nutt stuck with his run first offense which featured Felix Jones and Darren McFadden.

In December 2006, Mustain, along with Freshman tight end Ben Cleveland, and wide receiver (and Mustain’s high school teammate) Damian Williams, all met with Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles about Malzahn not having enough control of the offensive play calling.

This lead to Williams transferring to USC, Malzahn not getting an extension and leaving for Tulsa, which was followed by Mustain opting to transfer as well, too which Nutt did not object.

Nutt said he only wants players who want to be at Arkansas. "I've told all the players, if they want their release, we'll grant their release," Nutt said. (This disarray along, along with more off the field controversy lead to Nutt resigning following the 2007 season and taking over as the Ole Miss Head Coach.)

Mitch Mustain transferred to USC, joining high school teammate Damian Williams, where he sat out the 2007 season and was third on the depth chart in 2008.

He is now third on the depth chart behind top recruited freshman Matt Barkley and 2007 4th ranked Quarterback Aaron Corp. Mustain seems to have lost this battle and remains third again for the 2009 season.

So what went wrong for Mitch Mustain? Did Houston Nutt and the Arkansas offense set him back? Was he in the wrong to complain about his coach and set himself up for disaster?

USC is a great place for a quarterback to develop and to be seen.  For a non-starter with NFL aspirations, USC is the best place to be in today’s college football world based on the amount of national attention the program gets.  In that sense Mustain picked the best place to go.

On the other hand, USC has its disadvantages for someone in his position. His competition is greater here; being older puts him at a disadvantage, along with not being a USC recruit which results in less focus from the coaches. USC is in a position where they are expected to win every year so it’s important to groom the right guy.

Coach Carroll is obviously less focused on the development of Mustain as opposed to the development of Matt Barkley and Aaron Corp. 

After an August practice when asked about Mustain, Carroll said, "Right now, it's so important to develop Barkley. Because of what he's shown us, we have to give him every opportunity in the event Aaron doesn't make it back."

Barkley is their prized possession that will be there for 2-3 years and needs to be groomed. Even Aaron Corp who is younger then Mustain and is also a USC recruit is also valued more by Carroll and his staff.

Mustain says all the right things. In a September, 2 2009 LA Times article he said “I’ll enjoy it here and just hope that I get that one opportunity and that I’m able to take it from there. It may be a long shot, but that’s what I have to believe. And if not, I’m prepared to go to the next level.”

Hope is one of the only things Mustain has at this point. He will also have to ride on his High School accolades and keep up the hard work at USC practices in order to show NFL scouts that although he is not the starter there, it is not for lack of talent or effort.

Mustain should look to guys who did not have it easy in college, and/or went to schools that were not considered Football Factories, who then went on to succeed.

Guys like Tom Brady who was not highly recruited, did end up at a football factory school, warmed the bench for 2 years and then had to compete for his job in against highly recruited Drew Henson, went on to be a sixth round draft pick and we know the rest.

Tom Brady made it due to his college experience of battling for his job and having a great work ethic.

Guys like Joe Flacco, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger who played at schools that are not known for being football factories and yet ended up successful NFL starters based on their hard work and attention to detail.

These are guys who had to battle for attention based on the fact that their schools did not get national attention.

Mustain can also look to guys who did have great success in college like Matt Leinart and Vince Young and see that college success does not always translate to NFL success. Sometimes those who have it easiest in college have much more talent around them and their success could be deceiving.

Of course there is also the obvious example of Matt Cassel who was in the exact same position, at the exact same school, behind Matt Leinart. We all know who has had more success in the NFL thus far.

These are the places to which Mitch Mustain should look to for inspiration in order to get back to where he was just 3 short years ago.

He may have not gone wrong anywhere but could just be a product of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Now, he has positioned himself to be at the right place, but at the wrong time. However, Mitch Mustain does have the talent, hopefully he can keep a positive attitude and maintain a strong work ethic that will translate to success in the eyes of NFL scouts.