Ah, where to start when covering the 2009 South Carolina Gamecocks.
From player attrition to coaching changes to an infusion of talented freshmen, it’s a whole new ballgame for Carolina this year.
But the SEC—and college football, for that matter—begins with the quarterback.
This year’s Gamecock squad is different from the past for one reason: We know who the starting quarterback is.
Enter Stephen Garcia. Again. And again.
Some say the third time is the charm, and perhaps that is the case for Stephen Garcia, who needed three years to finally make it through a spring session.
With Chris Smelley now a backup catcher at Alabama and Garcia’s backups having combined to throw a total of zero passes in collegiate ball, Garcia’s grasp on the starting role is rock solid—even on a Spurrier-coached team.
One of the most popular players on Carolina’s roster, Garcia certainly has the support and friendship of his teammates, but whether he have the “moxie,” the “it factor,” and every other cliché coaches throw out there is yet to be seen.
Garcia has never been confused with a choir boy (see arrest record), but his on-field demeanor would suggest as much. Garcia isn’t built from the Dan Marino mold—you won’t see him grab a lineman’s facemask and bark at him, and you aren’t likely to see him berate a receiver for a missed pattern.
That’s just not the way Garcia runs his huddle, and because of this—combined with his past problems—outside observers insist that Garcia either doesn’t care enough or doesn’t know how to lead.
Not that the Head Ball Coach is concerned with demeanor—the guy has successfully coached both ends of the spectrum his entire career, from the saint-like Danny Wuerffel to a fiery Rex Grossman. Spurrier just wants Garcia to connect on some deep balls, something Garcia has not done consistently in practices thus far.
The Tampa, Fla., product has certainly showed glimpses of stardom last year, but he also looked his worst in Carolina’s final game—an Outback Bowl blowout loss to Iowa, in Garcia’s hometown no less.
Make no mistake about this year, the cards are stacked against Garcia. The Cocks return very few proven skill players, and the offensive line was one of the worst in the entire country last year. The offense has been upgraded with young talent, but Garcia—still only a redshirt sophomore—cannot rely on a proven veteran to help him out.
The pressure will fall squarely on his shoulders, and that’s exactly where G.A. Mangus, the new quarterback coach and former Spurrier player, wants it.
Mangus recruited Garcia heavily while he was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee and has formed a strong bond with Garcia, but he would like to see the quarterback claim his stake, saying, “I think there’s a definite confidence level. He’s got a chance for it to be his time, and I expect him to carry himself that way.”
Maybe Mangus’ presence is what Garcia needs. The two talk every day, and Garcia considers his new mentor not just a coach but a friend.
Whatever the case, things have to come together quickly for Garcia and Co. The Gamecocks own what Phil Steele calls the hardest schedule in the nation, including two road games to open the season—at improved North Carolina State and at Georgia.
For now, the question looms: Garcia is leading…but will the Gamecocks follow?