QB quandary in Columbia

The South Carolina Gamecocks are poised to begin a new error ... uh, era, at quarterback.

Since Steve Spurrier took over in Columbia, the quarterback position has been about as stable as the Mexican peso. Game 1 starter Blake Mitchell eventually gave way to Syvelle Newton in 2005, and the two continued supplanting one another in '06. With Newton gone, Mitchell was supposed to keep the job throughout '07. Instead, freshman Chris Smelley wound up playing nearly half of the snaps.

With Mitchell out of eligibility, Smelley loomed as the logical choice to start behind center in 2008. But, in case you hadn't noticed, logic isn't part of the QB equation in Columbia.

Spurrier admitted at last week's SEC Media Days in Hoover, Ala., that he's grown tired of playing "Who's the quarterback?" That doesn't mean one guy will start all 12 games this fall, however. If anything, Carolina's QB situation is more muddled than ever. There are three QBs bunched atop the depth chart this season – Smelley, Tommy Beecher and Stephen Garcia.

Smelley is the most experienced and Garcia is the most heralded, so it's only fitting that Beecher is the No. 1 guy entering preseason drills.

"Tommy has been there all three years," Spurrier noted. He hasn't played much yet, but he's ready."

Given Beecher's credentials, you wonder WHY he hasn't played much.

"Tommy has the highest GPA on the team," Spurrier said. "He can run probably better than the other quarterbacks ... can scramble around a bit. And he can make all the throws. You haven't seen a lot of him yet, but we're hoping and believing he will develop a lot of confidence, and we believe he can be a very good SEC quarterback.... We need to give him every opportunity to see if he can take us a long way."

In this case "every opportunity" probably means Game 1. Smelley will be warming up in the bullpen because he could be starting by Game 2.

"Chris Smelley has done well this summer," Spurrier conceded. "Chris played fairly well at times last year, not so well at other times."

Smelley completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,176 yards last fall but threw almost as many interceptions (7) as touchdowns (9). Beecher threw just 23 passes all year but completed 14 for 175 yards, with one TD and one interception. His passer-efficiency rating of 130.4 was slightly better than Smelley's 127.5 mark.

Complicating matters is the uncertain status of Garcia, a heralded redshirt freshman whose ability to throw a football is matched only by his inability to stay out of trouble. He has been arrested multiple times during his brief stint with the Gamecocks and is currently serving a suspension that runs to Aug. 15.

"Stephen could be back," Spurrier said. "The university is handling his situation. He had a bunch of requirements to do this summer. From what I understand, he's done everything they've asked."

With Garcia's future in limbo and Smelley's stock slipping, Beecher has the first-team quarterback job almost by default. How long the 6-2, 227-pound junior keeps it remains to be seen.

"Tommy performed a little bit better in the scrimmages in the spring," Spurrier noted. "So it was time to make him the starter, tell him he's the starter. Tell him he's going the distance, and he doesn't have to worry about one interception; he's our guy.... We're going to find out if he can take us a long way."

Taking a team "a long way" is difficult when you're on a short leash, and Spurrier is notorious for giving his QBs the shortest of leashes. Still, the Ol' Ball Coach says the Gamecocks will not be playing musical quarterbacks this fall.

"I'm tired of it," Spurrier said. "It's time to give one of those guys ..."

He didn't finish the sentence. Don't expect Tommy Beecher to finish the season.


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