Garcia views bowl game as "big opportunity"

Even before he knew the Gamecocks' bowl destination, Steve Spurrier knew which quarterback he wanted to put in charge of the game. The day after Carolina's season-ending loss at Clemson, Spurrier announced redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia would start the bowl game. Then on Sunday, USC officially accepted a bid to play in the Tampa, FL-based Outback Bowl on January 1st.

For Garcia, it means a month of practice, an opportunity to establish himself as the starter going into next season, and a chance to go home again.

The Tampa native met with the media recently to talk about being the starter, the team's late season swoon, and the excitement of playing in the Outback Bowl. South Carolina's bowl destination had not been announced when Garcia made his comments, but if he can learn to read defenses as well as he read the Gamecocks' bowl destination, Garcia has a bright future.

"That's going to be pretty fun," said Garcia. "Me and Mr. Fink [Media Relations Director Steve Fink] were joking about it early about how many tickets I'm going to have to get. It's going to be a lot."

Even closer to home for Garcia, his alma mater Jefferson High has previously hosted practice for one of the Outback Bowl participants, though that will not be the case this year. Being home will of course lead to extra distractions for Garcia, but he is confident it will not be anything he cannot handle.

"There's going to be distractions no matter what bowl you go to, maybe more in Tampa than anywhere else," he said. "I'm looking forward to being back home and seeing my family and my uncles and everybody."

Spurrier's decision to name Garcia the bowl starter so early gives the Ball Coach an entire month to work with his young signal caller. Garcia is clearly the most physically talented quarterback on the roster, but he is very raw when it comes to the mental aspect of the position. Now, Garcia will essentially have a month to prepare for Iowa, which will hopefully close the gap on his inexperience.

"I'm pretty excited about it. I've been talking to Coach Spurrier every day. It's a big opportunity for me as a quarterback and for the team in general," Garcia said. "I'm going to try to learn as much as possible, going over film with [Spurrier]. Coach [David] Reaves is gone, so now it's going to be more directly Coach Spurrier coaching us and Coach [Steve Spurrier] Junior coaching us."

Reaves left his position as the quarterbacks coach with the Gamecocks to join the coaching staff of his brother-in-law Lane Kiffen at Tennessee. Garcia and Reaves played phone tag following Reaves' departure, and had not spoken when Garcia met with the media.

The December practice time afforded by the bowl bid will be Garcia's first chance to work with the team outside the regular season. He was suspended for both of his first two spring practices ("Hopefully the third time's a charm," he joked. "I'll make this [next] one."), which has significantly slowed his learning process. Garcia views bowl practice as a chance to make up for some lost instruction and show Spurrier his dedication in the film room.

"Spring is when they really try to coach you up a lot. Missing those two spring practices was detrimental to my learning ability," Garcia said. "I just think he wants me to come in and watch film a lot more. I feel like I watch film a lot, but he wants me to watch film and really learn about what I'm doing."

Spurrier will not come right out and admit that is why he named Garcia the Outback Bowl starter, but he will not deny it either. He has a month to get Garcia ready to play, and that will go a long way towards establishing whether Garcia is the Gamecocks' quarterback of the future.

"It's a chance for him to take a good solid step and say, ‘Hey, I know how to play this game,' said Spurrier. "Hopefully Stephen understands he's got to really concentrate to play well. Hopefully he's grown up a little during this year, so we'll find out. He knows he's got to keep his mind on the game plan."

There has been speculation from fans and pundits that Spurrier's frequent and public criticism of his quarterbacks has contributed to their inconsistent play. Garcia has acknowledged previously that it sometimes stings to hear the criticism, he also knows that it is part of playing for Spurrier and part of why Spurrier has a reputation for producing top level quarterback play.

"It's pretty tough, but he's been doing that his entire career. Some guys respond to it and some guys don't. It's just a matter of how the quarterback takes it," said Garcia. "You can't let stuff bother you, especially when you're playing quarterback. The worst thing you can do is let the team know that the leader of the team is frustrated."

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