The waiting is over and the decision is in. The will-he, won't-he soap opera that's transpired over the past week has finally come to conclusion.
USC quarterback Mark Sanchez won't be back, he announced at a 10 a.m. press conference Thursday, declaring for the NFL Draft.
"It's an exciting day here," he said. "After sleepless nights and lots of prayer, I have decided to forgo my fifth year.
"It's been my dream since I was a youngster."
Sanchez made the announcement, fighting back tears and thanks numerous members of the USC athletic and academic staff.
"This is a big moment for Mark Sanchez and his family," USC head coach Pete Carroll said. "This is a big decision that's come from a big process. We've met many times on this."
Sanchez's future was cast in doubt thanks largely in part to a dominant performance in USC's 38-24 win over Penn State. In the win, Sanchez completed 28-of-35 attempts for 413 yards and four touchdowns — with no interceptions.
The game capped a fine season in Sanchez's first full year as a starter.
He finished up completing 241-of-366 of his passing attempts for 3,207 yards and 34 touchdowns. His 164.64 efficiency rating ranked sixth in the FBS this past season.
"This has been a very difficult decision, one of the most difficult decisions of my life," Sanchez said.
Sanchez's decision had been linked to the decisions of other underclass quarterbacks like Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford.
However, Sanchez's father, Nick, said earlier this week that it wasn't the case.
"When Mark chose USC, there were a lot of quarterbacks already there," he said. "If it didn't matter to him then, it won't now."
Only Stafford has declared for the NFL Draft, and he and Sanchez are believed to be the top two quarterback prospects in this year's draft.
After starting three games for an injured John David Booty in 2007, Sanchez won the starting job last spring, moving past Mitch Mustain and Aaron Corp. Corp ended the season as Sanchez's back up.
Sanchez was clearly affected by Steve Sarkisian's decision to leave USC to become head coach at Washington. However, Sanchez said he knew of USC's new quarterbacks coach Carl Smith's reputation for developing talent.
Smith was on the staff coach quarterbacks in 2004, helping lead Matt Leinart to the Heisman trophy.
The decision to go pro apparently went down to the wire for Sanchez. Sources close to the program told USCfootball.com that Sanchez had told several offensive players he was returning to school earlier in the week. However, as his stock continued to rise, Sanchez decided to leave USC before exhausting his eligibility.
Sanchez said he plans on graduating from USC this spring.
Tuesday, safety Taylor Mays said he would return to USC for his senior season. Sanchez is USC's only underclassman headed to the draft.