COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- Stephen Garcia started 30 games at
quarterback in his South Carolina career and ranks third all-time
for the Gamecocks in passing yards, completions and touchdowns.
He also was a second-team all-Southeastern Conference pick and
led his team to its first-ever SEC championship game last season. That might not be enough for him to be the starter on Saturday when No. 12 South Carolina opens its season against East Carolina.
Spurrier said he might not announce whether the senior or
sophomore Connor Shaw will take the first snap until Friday. The wily coach said it doesn't matter who starts, because both players will play for a few possessions in the first half as the Gamecocks try to live up to expectations that have them tapped as favorites to win the SEC East again.
"I don't know how you can say one guy is the quarterback for the year when you've got two that are pretty close and one of them is struggling," said Spurrier, referring to the five interceptions Garcia threw in the final two games of 2010. "I don't know how you tell the other guy he's not going to have a chance."
Spurrier said his chief reason for switching quarterbacks is to make sure he has his best player on the field when he needs him. But there is always a hint of psychology from the former Heisman Trophy winning quarterback at Florida.
Spurrier expects his quarterbacks to have the same drive, focus on the game and willingness to study the playbook that he had in his college and NFL career.
"I really believe competing against each other has made both of them better," Spurrier said.
When Spurrier hears criticism of his decision to rotate quarterbacks, he points back to his Florida days, when the Gators won SEC titles alternating between Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel and later when both Rex Grossman and Jessie Palmer took snaps.
Yet shifting around quarterbacks hasn't worked quite so well at
South Carolina. Spurrier switched between Blake Mitchell and Chris Smelley in 2007 and neither really established themselves in a 6-6 season.
He also refused to name a starting quarterback between Garcia
and Shaw before last year's opener. The he was criticized for
yanking Garcia after two fourth quarter fumbles in last year's
35-27 regular season loss to eventual national champion Auburn.
Shaw came in and killed two promising drives with interceptions.
Shaw didn't see meaningful playing time the rest of the season.
For their part, neither Garcia nor Shaw complain about the situation. After practice last Thursday, Garcia shrugged off questions about whether he is bothered that his coach never gives the same no doubt backing that star running back Marcus Lattimore and all-SEC receiver Alshon Jeffery get.
Both of them have been written into the starting lineup in pen since their freshmen seasons.
"We've been doing this for two years now. We know how to deal with it. It's really nothing to it," Garcia said.
Garcia usually gets much more praise from opposing coaches than
Spurrier, and this week is no exception. East Carolina coach Ruffin
McNeill said Garcia was just as important as Lattimore and Jeffery
last year in getting South Carolina its first SEC East title in 20 years in the league.
"Offensively, you have to start with Stephen Garcia at quarterback. Coach Spurrier has always had fine quarterbacks. Garcia is that guy who can make the throws," McNeill said.
Spurrier insists if Garcia begins this season on the bench, it won't be because of his two suspensions last offseason.
"It's based on performance, not on Stephen's transgressions. We
have forgiven him of his transgressions," Spurrier said. "He's a
new person, he really is. He's doing things differently. That's all
During fall practice, Shaw has been better in scrimmages, while
Garcia has looked better in the past few practices, Spurrier said.
Their playing styles are similar.
Shaw may have a better touch on his passes, while Garcia is more of a threat to run. McNeill figures either quarterback can run the offense and give his Pirates fits on Saturday.
After all, South Carolina Is returning arguably the best running back and receiver in the league along with half of last year's starting defensive line and all the starting secondary.
The team also add last year's top high school recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who Spurrier said will "be in early and often" in the opener.
"We're facing a really good football team. They have all the pieces on the three sides of the ball. They're picked to win the division," McNeill said.