Steve Spurrier has declined every opportunity over the last week or so to name a starting quarterback for Saturday's season-opener against East Carolina. Normally, a position battle between a fifth-year senior with 28 consecutive starts and a true sophomore with 33 career pass attempts would have a predictable outcome. Then again, this is Spurrier and Stephen Garcia we're talking about. Should Garcia be named the starter for Saturday night's game?
All Things Being Equal, You Go With The More Experienced Guy: Some coaches believe that if an older player and younger player are fairly equal, you go with the former rather than the latter. In other words, it's up to the younger player to win by knockout. Clearly, that is not the case here since Spurrier has praised Garcia's performance in preseason camp. By this point, we all know what Garcia is capable of when he steps onto the field in a real game. He has the career statistics (30 starts, 6,753 passing yards, 43 touchdowns) to give Spurrier comfort that he'll do his job when called upon.
It's About Georgia, Not East Carolina: Let's face it, if USC brings its "A" game on Saturday, the Gamecocks will crush East Carolina and, in all likelihood, easily cover the 20-point spread set by oddsmakers. Seven days later, a pivotal, potentially division-deciding game at Georgia lurks on the schedule. Shouldn't Spurrier mimic in the East Carolina game what we all expect will happen in Athens - Garcia gets the start? Does USC really want to give a true sophomore his first career start in front of 90,000 rabid Bulldog fans? Could be trouble.
Garcia Has Redeemed Himself: By all accounts, Garcia has been on his best behavior since being placed on probation in late May. He's stayed out of trouble through the summer months, which led to his full reinstatement on Aug. 1. Spurrier's comments on Tuesday said it all: "We have forgiven him of his transgressions. He's a new person, he really is. He's doing things differently. That's all history. We're starting fresh, and it's all based on performance from here on out." If everything truly is fresh, wouldn't Garcia get the benefit of the doubt because he's played before? Why would USC reinstate Garcia and welcome him back to the team from his latest suspension unless it intended to make him the starter? Interesting questions.
The Team Has Confidence In Garcia: Would Garcia's teammates have organized "Team Garcia" on Twitter following his indefinite suspension in April if they didn't believe in him? Privately, I'm guessing most USC players would prefer Garcia to Shaw because the senior is a proven commodity. In case you haven't noticed, expectations for this season are huge. The players believe they can achieve their 2011 goals with Garcia behind the wheel.
All Things Being Equal, You Go With The Younger Guy: Some coaches believe the burden is on the upperclassman involved in a position battle with a younger player to win the job outright. If Spurrier is accepting this view, he clearly believes Garcia hasn't beaten out Shaw for the starting job, thus giving the sophomore from Flowery Branch, Ga., a chance to play meaningful snaps because he'll be around longer. Hence, it's about the present and the future because Shaw has the
You Can Win With Two Quarterbacks: There's a popular saying that if you have two quarterbacks, you don't have one. Well, Spurrier has firmly believed for a long time you can win with two quarterbacks sharing snaps. He's done it before (see the Arkansas game in 2008) and he just might do it again. Spurrier loves to talk about the 2000 Florida team that won the SEC championship playing two quarterbacks (Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer) and he did it again on Tuesday, saying four of the eight conference championship games that he has appeared in have rotated two quarterbacks. Unless one of them proves he is clearly better than the other, Spurrier will play both guys. "If one of them is playing a lot better than the others, he plays," Spurrier said. "Our job as coaches is always to put the best players on the field, no matter what position."
Garcia Opened The Door And Shaw Marched In: You can make the argument Garcia has nobody to blame but himself for inviting the ongoing quarterback battle. Had Garcia showed maturity and leadership and behaved himself off the field in a couple of situations, he would likely be head and shoulders above Shaw. Instead, Spurrier felt he couldn't trust Garcia (and would have sent the wrong message) and gave both quarterbacks an equal number of practice snaps throughout preseason camp. Shaw took advantage of the opportunity with a solid showing and sliced the gap to almost zero.
Moreover, Garcia's performance in the final two games last season created doubt in Spurrier's mind that Garcia was the right guy for the job. This comment by Spurrier on Tuesday says it all: "His performance was not good enough, in my opinion, for us to say he's our quarterback next year. In my opinion, we needed to say, 'Hey, we're going to have some competition there,' and that's what we're going to have. And we're having it, and we're still having it." In other words, you're only as good as your last game.
Competition Makes Everybody Better: Spurrier credited the competition during preseason camp for making both quarterbacks better - "I really believe competing against each other has made both of them better." If so, Spurrier's decision not to hand the starting job to Garcia upon his full reinstatement early in camp has paid dividends. "I've really been impressed with both these guys," he said Tuesday. "I think they've improved to the point that our passing game will be improved." This is the first time in three years Garcia has faced a serious challenger for the starting job. In 2009, the backup was Reid McCollum. Last season, it was Shaw as a true freshman. Neither one was ready to compete for the job and Garcia knew it. Now that he's had to endure a tough fight for his job, has Garcia seen the light? Possibly.