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Preseason college football countdown: No. 12 South Carolina

The Gamecocks have high expectations and are favored to win the SEC East. Quarterback Stephen Garcia, who has been suspended five times, gets another chance to possibly push them over the top in the conference.

August 19, 2011|Chris Dufresne
  • South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards during the Gamecocks' breakthrough nine-win season last year.
South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards during… (Richard Shiro / Associated…)

Everyone deserves a second chance, or a sixth.

Coach Steve Spurrier has never been the patient type. In fact, quarterback Stephen Garcia might be the only fool Spurrier has ever suffered gladly.

This is prickly because Garcia throws a nice spiral and is the key to possibly pushing South Carolina over the top in the Southeastern Conference.

Garcia, suspended five times, was reinstated earlier this month just in time for opening of training camp.

Asked at SEC media days why he keeps sticking with Garcia, Spurrier quipped, "I guess we don't want to kick him out for stupidity."

Time is running out on the Greater Knucklehead Society. Spurrier may not look 66, but that's what age he turned in April. It's taken him six years to overcome decades of "Chicken Curse" jokes and systemic football incompetence.

South Carolina's breakthrough last year in winning the SEC East was tempered by a 56-17 loss to Auburn in the conference title game. South Carolina also lost to "Free Shoes" Florida State in the Chick-fil-A bowl.

It was still a nine-win season, though, and Spurrier is dealing with a fan base that thinks close is good enough.

"I sort of got a little upset at our fans when they clapped after we lost," Spurrier said. "We came close against a No. 2 or a No. 3 team in the country and got beat. I don't think you should boo the team, but I don't think you should clap either."

The school's notoriously low expectations have never been higher.

South Carolina is favored to win the East. The Gamecocks have a battering ram at back, sophomore Marcus Lattimore, who rushed for 1,197 yards last season. The school also persuaded the nation's No. 1 recruit, defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, to attend school in his home state.

"Usually those No. 1 guys go to Alabama, Southern Cal, Ohio State, Florida, somewhere like that," Spurrier said of Clowney. "We were able to get a No. 1 guy."

These are exciting but tenuous times. Only once, in 1984, has South Carolina won 10 games in a season. Even that ended in a downer, though, with a Gator Bowl defeat.

South Carolina had two shots at 10 last year but lost its last two games. This year's schedule sets up beautifully, skipping Alabama and Louisiana State and home games against Auburn, Florida and Clemson.

South Carolina last year accomplished plenty. "We're planning on doing more this year," Lattimore, the star back, said.

The season hinges on Garcia and production at the quarterback position. Garcia last year passed for 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns.

His history adds a layer of uneasiness to a growing sense of euphoria. If any player or program needed a sixth chance, well, it might be this one.

"He's not done anything to be arrested, thrown in jail, DUIs, things like that," Spurrier said of Garcia. "He's just done some stupid things."

Haven't we all?

The countdown so far: 25. Texas; 24. Georgia; 23. Arkansas; 22. Arizona State; 21. West Virginia; 20. Auburn; 19. Ohio State; 18. USC; 17. Michigan State; 16. Florida; 15. Virginia Tech; 14. Texas A&M; 13. Texas Christian.

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

twitter.com/dufresnelatimes

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