Garcia gets first shot

While freshman quarterback Connor Shaw has been the talk of fall camp at times, its incumbent starter Stephen Garcia who will get the start when the Gamecocks tee it up against Southern Miss tonight at 7:36.

Though head football coach Steve Spurrier didn't give indication that Garcia would start until his call-in show Tuesday night, he did give a big hint of who would get the nod in his weekly press conference Tuesday afternoon. All other things being fairly equal, Spurrier says he likes to go with experience over youth to open up the season.

"We probably got an idea who's going to start," he said at the time. "Generally I've always played the older guys first, unless something happens right before the game."

Garcia, a redshirt junior from Tampa, Fla. passed for 2862 yards last season and 17 touchdowns in an offense that struggled to run the ball. Despite constant criticism from Spurrier, Garcia is already one of the best quarterbacks in school history statistically in just two seasons. His 3694 career passing yards is 8th in school history, while his 23 touchdown passes ranks 9th.

According to players and coaches, Garcia had an excellent summer. He was in the weight room everyday pushing the offensive players and was often out working with the receivers running the team's non-supervised offseason passing drills. It is that newfound leadership that has Spurrier and Gamecock fans excited to see what Garcia can do in a season filled with high expectations.

"We're all hoping and wishing that Stephen Garcia will play well, play smart and take care of the ball," Spurrier said. "If we're going to have a big year, our quarterbacks have to play well and play smart."

It is Garcia's decision making that sometimes has left Gamecock fans scratching their heads. He has thrown 18 interceptions in his two seasons at Carolina and has taken a number of sacks in situations where he should have thrown the ball away. If he improves in that area, there's no reason why 2010 won't be a great season for Garcia.

"We have confidence Stephen will play well," Spurrier said. "But he has to go play and compete."

Unlike last season, Garcia has plenty of motivation to continue to improve and get better in the form of true freshman Connor Shaw. Shaw, an underrated 3-star quarterback coming out of high school, has drawn rave reviews based on his practices and scrimmages over the summer. In the final two scrimmages during summer workouts, it was Shaw who stole the show. Shaw was a combined 18-28 with 246 yards and 3 touchdowns.

"We really believe he's going to be a lot better next year and the year after that and so forth," Spurrier said of Shaw. "I believe some guys are fast learners and there are some guys who really, really want to learn."

While Shaw won't start against Southern Miss, he will be in very early. Earlier this week Spurrier said that both quarterbacks will play in the first quarter. Whether it's the second, third, or fourth series is anyone's guess.

"He's performed well in the scrimmages, he's a good athlete, he can run when he needs to, so we've got to see how he performs in the real action here Thursday night," Spurrier said.

Spurrier says he has no problem playing multiple quarterbacks, and some of his best years at Florida involved two quarterbacks getting significant minutes. Of the eight conference championships he won at Florida, four were won with two quarterbacks.

"Danny Wuerffel - the four he gets credited with down there - actually Terry Dean was the most valuable player of the 93 SEC championship game." Spurrier said. "Danny actually got hurt the week before."

Gamecock fans remember well the 2000 match-up between the Gators and Gamecocks. The Gamecocks built a 21-3 first quarter lead before falling 41-21 to the Gators. It was during that game that Spurrier decided to pull Rex Grossman in favor of Jesse Palmer.

"Rex started the game and appeared to be lost or whatever," Spurrier said. "Jesse came in and did some things to help us pull that one out. So I have found there's nothing wrong with playing two quarterbacks if that's what it takes to try and win the game. As long as everybody's on the same page, you use all the players necessary to win the game."

Spurrier has been convinced throughout his career that a coach has to play any player that can help the team win -- even if that means playing two quarterbacks.

So Spurrier will have no reservations about putting the ball in Shaw's hands early.

But it's Garcia who will get the first chance to prove this team is his.

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