SAPAKOFF COLUMN: Life after Garcia is a tightrope
You have Starkville, Miss., all wrong. The Starkville Community Theatre is underrated and the Starkville metro area boasts some of the best bass fishing in Mississippi.
Starkville also is the gateway of opportunity for upstart leading man Connor Shaw. South Carolina's sophomore quarterback was thrust into the starting lineup last week, and fared well in a home rout of Kentucky.
But Shaw will work without a net Saturday at Mississippi State after the No. 15 Gamecocks dismissed fifth-year QB Stephen Garcia on Tuesday.
"Our comfort level, it is what it is," head coach Steve Spurrier said Wednesday during a weekly telephone news conference. "Connor's our starter. We certainly hope he can stay healthy."
Garcia was kicked off the team, not handed a sixth suspension. Maybe it's only coincidence that South Carolina drew the hard line just days after Shaw showed that the Gamecocks, for the first time in four seasons, might actually have a quarterback alternative to Garcia.
"It's all over now," Spurrier said Wednesday. "We don't need to rehash it."
Shaw's play will go a long way in deciding how much mention Garcia gets the rest of the season. Say what you want about Garcia's actions on and off the field, including nine interceptions this season. But he showed in 2010 what might have been in 2011 after finishing fifth in the SEC in pass efficiency behind a Heisman Trophy winner (Cam Newton), two more NFL quarterbacks (Greg McElroy and Ryan Mallet) and Georgia's Aaron Murray.
No real No. 2
Enter Shaw, full of potential and suspect all at once.
And South Carolina didn't just lose Garcia, the Gamecocks no longer have the relatively ready Shaw in a backup role.
Now it's sophomore Andrew Clifford and redshirt freshman Dylan Thompson vying for snaps.
Spurrier summed up his confidence in those guys.
"We need to think about (Shaw's) safety all the time out there," Spurrier said Wednesday.
Asked to name his No. 2 quarterback, Spurrier declined.
"It might be who has the best warmup in pre-game practice," he said.
It might work. The Head Ball Coach is good at this, bringing willing quarterbacks along quickly.
SEC East chase
Gamecocks goals have been adjusted, but only slightly.
The only thing off the table for a 5-1 team is a national championship.
If Shaw and Co. can get through this three-game road stretch with two wins, the Nov. 12 home game vs. Florida might wind up deciding the SEC East title.
Florida, home state of Stephen Garcia. Florida, where Garcia led South Carolina to an SEC East-clinching win over the Gators last November.
"I don't like it. I don't like it," Spurrier said, repeating his reaction to Garcia's departure. "I wish he'd stayed. I wish he could have finished his career as a Gamecock here one way or another."
Of course, another SEC East title run is easier discussed than accomplished. Because the odd circumstances surrounding the most controversial player in South Carolina football history were not addressed one way or another earlier, the Gamecocks in the immediate post-Garcia era find themselves as the feature act under the SEC big top.
Reach Gene Sapakoff at email@example.com. or 937-5593.