THE CHOSEN ONE?
It's almost indisputable that one key to the 2007 for the Gamecocks will be how well Blake Mitchell performs. No one else who could go under center has much experience at all, and it's now or never for the senior quarterback to prove that Spurrier wasn't too far off base when he said Mitchell could be an all-conference quarterback.
Not quite this bad, but still...
But now we get to the confounding thing about Blake Mitchell: His ability to snatch mediocrity from the jaws of greatness. Almost literally every time Mitchell has been on the brink of achieving near-legendary status, he has a meltdown that leaves everyone around him scratching their heads.
Take last year, when Mitchell tanked against Mississippi State and Georgia, prompting Spurrier to turn to Syvelle Newton. Then, Mitchell got another chance against Arkansas and rallied the team ... until he threw a late interception on a critical drive.
After throwing for no TDs and no INTs but helping lead the team to a near-upset of Florida, then tossing four scores in a brutal thrashing of Middle Tennessee State, he almost handed Clemson the game with three at-times bizarre interceptions en route to a QB rating of 51.6. (In fairness, he played well in the Liberty Bowl, throwing 4 TDs and only 1 INT as part of a 323-yard day.)
That followed a familiar pattern for South Carolina fans, who watched Mitchell blow away a Central Florida team that later went on to have a good season in 2005, only to see a performance the next week against Georgia in which he threw two interceptions and missed a pass on a two-point coversion attempt that could have tied the game.
Fans who saw him throw three interceptions and no TDs to end a five-game winning streak for the Gamecocks and lose a mind-numbing 13-9 game to Clemson.
Fans who grimaced as he threw 3 passes to guys not on his team to help blow a commanding lead and lose 38-31 to Missouri in the Independence Bowl. One of those interceptions came during -- you guessed it -- a drive that could have tied the game.
It's cheap -- or at least it feels cheap -- to blame it on something in Mitchell's psychology. But it almost has to be. Rarely has so much ability and incompetence been displayed in a breathtakingly short period of time. What else do we call it? What else do you point to?
And lest we forget, Mitchell is losing the three starting interior offensive linemen. C&F has noted before that he is no math expert, but it's easy to see what that adds up to.
Likely against Georgia. Again.
But there are a few reasons for optimism.
The first is that this is Mitchell's third year in the system. He can't possibly regress in his third year -- can he? He has to make some progress -- doesn't he?
The second is that Sidney Rice has left for the NFL. Now, before you start questioning my sanity, hear me out. At times, Mitchell's problem seemed to be that he was throwing the ball at Rice, even when Sidney had little going for him besides the fact that he was between the sidelines. Some of these ended up as the great circus catches that we all remember. Others ended with a defensive back with the ball in his hands running past Mitchell.
And finally, Spurrier seems to have learned how to deal with his troubled quarterback. The "I love you" approach doesn't work. You have to kick Mitchell's butt to begin with, and then you have to kick it again when he screws up. And then you bring him back when it seems like all hope is lost.
Will all those factors conspire to thwart Mitchell's continuing drive to not be all that he can be?
The Gamecocks' season could hinge on the answer.
RETURNING QUARTERBACKS (2006 statistics):
--Blake Mitchell: 135-202, 1,789 yards, 10 TDs, 6 INTs, 151.6 rating (9 games)
--Chris Smelley: 9-15, 112 yards, 122.7 rating (2 games)
--Tommy Beecher: 2-2, 19 yards, 1 TD, 344.8 rating (3 games)
Labels: ACC, Arkansas, Big XII, Blake Mitchell, bowls, Clemson, coaches, Conference USA, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, previews, quarterbacks, SEC, South Carolina, Steve Spurrier, Sun Belt, Syvelle Newton