I don't know if that statement is true, but it was a thought so thoroughly tweeted on Thursday night that "Connor Shaw" (correctly spelled and everything) became a nationwide trending topic just moments after Steve Spurrier announced that the true sophomore Shaw - not the fifth-year senior Garcia - will be QB1 in the Gamecocks' 2011 debut against the East Carolina Pirates. The announcement was met with a groan of "here we go again" by many fans and members of the media, who are looking for any reason at all to believe that well-hyped and 12th-ranked Gamecocks will find some way to piss away the greatest assemblage of talent to ever collectively don a South Carolina uniform. Former Gamecock beat writer Travis Haney even chipped in his two cents from his new digs in Norman, OK with a flippant, "Oh well. [There's] always next season." Some less tasteful tweeters even went so far as to suggest that decision was likely a symptom of early onset dementia.
Despite the mostly dire reactions, I'm almost certain that this decision isn't a permanent one, and - even if it were - I'm not entirely confident that it would be a mistake.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I should mention that Spurrier only told us that Shaw would play the first quarter, Garcia the second, and then "we'll see what happens." His intentionally vague comment certainly leaves open the possibility that we could see anything from a 50/50 time share to either one of Garcia or Shaw taking 100% of the snaps in the second half.
In most sports, it's very important to fans (and arguably to the athletes) that each player has a clearly defined role. I don't know why, but that's just the way it seems to be. Leading up to the beginning of the Major League Baseball season, reporters incessantly pester managers with questions like "Who will be batting leadoff?" and "Who is going to be your opening day starter?" Never mind that opening day is only one of the 162 games that they will play in the upcoming season and that the batting order will be tweaked and toyed with throughout the year. They ask these questions because their readers want to know. Football is no different.
Coach Spurrier, however, does not think very highly of the idea of clearly defined roles for his football players, especially when it comes to his quarterbacks. He's quick to tell anyone who will listen that half of his eight conference championships were won during seasons in which he rotated quarterbacks. In an interview with Rick Henry, he called the idea of naming a starting quarterback before the first game and sticking with that decision throughout the season was a "fallacy." Everything that we know from what Spurrier has said and what Spurrier has done in the past tells us that the starting QB situation is far from settled.
"There's an old fallacy that you can't play two quarterbacks... That's all just media crap."
But let's just suppose that Connor Shaw's start against ECU does signal a changing of the guard and that Shaw will be the primary (if not sole) possessor of the starting quarterback job going forward. Would that necessarily be a bad idea? Anger about this possibility seems to have centered around three arguments:
"Starting Shaw over Garcia could create divisions in the locker room"
As far as this point goes, I don't know what to say. You just have to hope that Spurrier had a good discussion with Stephen before the announcement on Thursday and that Garcia is mature enough to handle it well. After 30 years of coaching kids, you have to hope that Spurrier would know how to manage this situation, but there's just know way for us to know how this will play out in the locker room. I used "hope" a lot in that paragraph because that's about all I can do.
"Garcia is better than Shaw"
Is Garcia better than Shaw? Based on what? Garcia has racked up some pretty impressive counting stats (6,753 yards, 43 touchdowns), but he's prone to have the occasional meltdown. His completion rate was much improved in 2011 (64.2% in 2011, 55.3% in 2010), but trailed off significantly toward the end of the season (53.3% in the final three games). Connor Shaw hasn't taken many snaps, but (save for a pair of costly interceptions against Auburn) was efficient when he did get on the field in 2011 (23/33, 223 yards).
Shaw's numbers in the fall scrimmages (23/31, 439 yards, 5 TD) were much better than Garcia's (29/52, 389, 2 TD). And because most of the practices were closed, those numbers and Spurrier's opinion are about all we have to go on. Given that Spurrier has been doing this for several decades, I would wager that you could drop him in a room with two random quarterbacks and he could accurately identify the superior player within a couple of minutes. But instead of a couple of minutes he's had a month of practice.
"Garcia is more experienced than Shaw"
Experience only interests me as an asset to the extent that it makes a football player more effective at his job. Is it possible, though, that Connor Shaw could play well against opponents like ECU but wilt under the pressure of, say, a game against Florida to clinch the SEC East? Sure. It's possible. But Garcia's track record in big games (including three bowl losses and a blowout loss in the SEC Championship) is spotty to say the least. Even if you grant him solid performances against Alabama, Georgia, and Florida last year, Bad Garcia shows up to big games at least as often as Good Garcia. If that's what Garcia's superior experience gets you, you have to ask yourself if his experience is really all that valuable.
All that said, Spurrier's decision to start Shaw doesn't appear to have sprung from any measure of dissatisfaction with Garcia's performance. In fact, Spurrier told Rick Henry that he is "very fired up that we have two quarterbacks in Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw who are very capable of playing well."
What if Stephen Garcia is just as good as he was in 2010, but now Connor Shaw is a little better? Can't this be a good thing? When an authority figure does something that contravenes common sense, I am usually among the first to question the decision. But in this particular situation, Steve Spurrier has a lot of information that we simply do not have access to. Unless the team's on-field performance gives me reason to doubt the efficacy of his strategy, I'm choosing to trust the judgement of the man who has brought this football program to the precipice of greatness.