Spring fever: South Carolina

Steve Spurrier finally figured out how to clarify South Carolina's quarterback position: Run off everybody until there's only one QB left.

Tommy Beecher, who opened the 2008 season as the No. 1 quarterback, has transferred to Liberty. Chris Smelley, who started off and on for the past two years, has transferred to Alabama to play baseball.

That leaves the last man standing as ... (drum roll please) ... Stephen Garcia. He started three games last fall, including Carolina's defeat of Tennessee and its Outback Bowl loss to Iowa. His numbers were nothing special. He finished 65 of 122 passing (53.3 percent) for 832 yards with 8 interceptions and 6 touchdown passes. He also ranked second on the team in rushing with 198 yards, despite a 2.8 per-carry average.

Garcia, running virtually unopposed, came out of spring practice No. 1 on the depth chart after completing 13 of 20 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown in the Garnet & Black Game. Reid McCollum, a redshirt freshman, is listed as the backup.

Carolina's air attack will be without the top two receivers from 2008. Wideout Kenny McKinley (54 catches, 742 yards, 11.9 per-catch average and 4 TDs) exhausted his eligibility and tight end Jared Cook (37 catches, 573 yards, 15.5 per-catch average and 3 TDs) elected to skip his senior season and turn pro.

With Mckinley and Cook gone, the top returning pass catchers are wideouts Moe Brown (30 for 391 yards, 13.0 per-catch average) and Jason Barnes (27 for 346 yards, 12.8 per-catch average).

Junior Brian Maddox, who ran for 121 yards and a 3.8 per-carry average in 2008, is listed No. 1 at tailback coming out spring practice. Sophomore Eric Baker (182 yards and a 4.0 per-carry average last fall), is pushing him but coming up fast on the outside is mid-term freshman enrollee Jarvis Giles. Originally a Tennessee commitment, Giles rushed 12 times for 114 yards in Carolina's spring game, including touchdown runs of 17 and 14 yards.

Defensively, Carolina lost half of its 2008 starting secondary when cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Emanuel Cook elected to bypass their senior seasons in favor of the '09 NFL Draft. They will be missed.

The Gamecocks still feature one of the NCAA's premier defenders, however, in two-time All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood. He's coming off a 2008 season which saw him register 75 tackles, 9 sacks and 9 hurries.

Carolina must find a suitable replacement for kicker Ryan Succop, who nailed 20 of 30 field goals last season and also served as the kickoff man. Although he was Mr. Irrelevant (last man picked) in the NFL Draft, Succop was quite relevant to a sputtering Gamecock offense last fall.

Bottom line: If Garcia can provide stability at quarterback – something the program has lacked throughout Spurrier's tenure – the Cocks could challenge for second place in the SEC East. If Carolina plays musical quarterbacks again this fall, however, this looks like a 6-6 or 7-5 team.


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