CHARLOTTE -- It seemed like a swell idea at the time, starting Connor Shaw against a defense billed as unable to stop a choir.

Yeah, the sophomore quarterback was going to shine his sharpened skills on East Carolina at Bank of America Stadium, and inspire senior starter Stephen Garcia with a little competition.

Then the No. 12 South Carolina Gamecocks would head into next week's Southeastern Conference opener at Georgia with the two-headed passing monster head coach Steve Spurrier has wanted all of his seven seasons in Columbia.

Oops, fumble.

Again.

Four total in the first half.

Look at the bright side. The Gamecocks have a 56-37 victory and do not have a quarterback quandary. Garcia was obviously going to start Between The Hedges before Spurrier announced as much after the game.

But, sigh.

There was no quarterback competition win within the win.

"Stephen is a fifth-year guy and the guys rally around him; I understand that," Shaw said after completing 3 of 9 passes for 21 yards and losing a fumble. "I rally around him. … I'm thankful for the opportunity."

Spurrier said he nixed a lockerroom suggestion to give Garcia a game ball, but liked his new starter's new look.

"He cleaned up, shaved his beard," Spurrier said. "Decided to act like a quarterback."

After all these years, a head coach famous for shuffling quarterbacks on the way to SEC titles at Florida still does not have a proven second option at South Carolina.

It wasn't all Shaw's fault. Great kid. Probably will develop into a good player by his junior or senior year.

It made sense

But the quarterback is guilty by association when mistakes get contagious.

Thursday night, the decision to go with Shaw made slight sense.

Saturday night, it was hazardous to the health of a season potentially better than the journey to the 2010 SEC championship game.

Garcia came on to run for a pair of touchdowns and throw for another. Never mind the mere 110 yards passing; he effectively managed the ballgame.

"Connor deserved to start," Spurrier said. "He played better in all those scrimmages. All those balls that got tipped tonight? He hit them on a dead run in the scrimmages. … I don't second-guess myself at all."

If this was discipline for Garcia and his multiple suspensions, fine. Nice message, loud and clear.

Except that Spurrier this week went out of his way to say Garcia was "forgiven" and could have made the call before Shaw looked good in preseason scrimmages.

If it was strictly a football decision, why?

Shaw has done nothing on the field during actual college football games to earn a start, while Garcia had started 28 consecutive games over three bowl seasons.

17-0 hole

What an unlikely scenario: South Carolina, with a record-high preseason ranking and a three-touchdown favorite, down by 17 against suspect East Carolina before Garcia got his first snap.

Fairly telling, don't you think, that Shaw was yanked with a 17-0 deficit and not reinserted until South Carolina had a 56-37 lead with less than three minutes remaining.

Most things have worked for the Head Ball Coach during a gradual building process.

He has presided over excellent recruiting efforts these last few years and South Carolina has top-notch talent all over the field.

The formula will work, if Garcia stays healthy.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or 937-5593.