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Keys to Success in 2009: Number 3, Stephen Garcia

If you look at any preseason preview on the web or in a supermarket mag, you'll see one constant question in what people are saying about South Carolina: can Stephen Garcia be the quarterback that Steve Spurrier has been looking for in his time in Columbia? CFN, in exemplary fashion, calls Garcia the team's best offensive player and has this to say about him:

He's the leader of the offense and Spurrier's future is tied in to how the multi-faceted playmaker progresses. He can't press and he can't try to win games all by himself, but he has the potential to get hot and carry the team through some rough patches now and then.

That pretty much sums it up. Spurrier, whose offense requires an efficient signal caller to work the way it did at Florida, has been unable to find what he needs in his time here. Blake Mitchell, Syvelle Newton, and Chris Smelley had their good days, but none was ever able to bring this team to the next level, and Mitchell and Smelley were notable for their Jekyll-and-Hyde like stretches, for being able to throw for 300 yards one Saturday and four interceptions the next. In dismay, Spurrier has tended to shuffle quarterbacks when the going has gotten rough, usually with poor results. This time, though, Spurrier has to rely on Garcia. With the extremely green Reid McCollum the only other viable option, Spurrier has no other choice. It's Garcia or bust, probably for 2010 and 11, too. That means that if Spurrier wants follow through on his promise to bring an SEC East title to Columbia and to revive his legacy as one of college football's great offensive minds, he needs Garcia to perform.

Luckily for Spurrier, Garcia appears to be just what the doctor ordered. He has the best arm of any of the quarterbacks we've had during the Spurrier tenure, and his mobility gives him an overall skill set rivaled only by Newton. Garcia's troubles in the action he saw last year can be partially attributed to poor protection, to his lack of knowledge of the offense, and his overall tendency to make the kinds of mistakes that freshmen quarterbacks make. For example, his failure to deal adequately with LSU's blitz by audibling to running or quick-release passing plays in the second half probably cost us that game. Granted, Garcia deserves the blame for his lack of experience; he wasn't a true freshman, but rather someone that played like one because he missed so much practice time due to off-field issues. To his credit, though, he appears to be a changed man. He's gotten his act together off the field and has shown a dedication to learning the ropes that payed off with good performances in the spring. Will Garcia be Tim Tebow this fall? Almost certainly not. But I do think we've seen indications that suggest he'll be good, perhaps the best quarterback we've had in Spurrier's time here. And in 2010 and 11, the sky may be the limit.

For these reasons, I don't think of Garcia as being the most pressing question mark going into the fall. If you want to define "key to success" as simply what's most essential to success, then yeah, Garcia is probably our biggest key. The quarterback would be on most teams, even without the kinds of question marks our recent track record point to.However, I'm trying to think both in terms of what's most essential and what's most pressing in terms of doubts coming into the season, and to be honest, I actually have a lot of faith in Garcia performing to expectations this year. Am I overconfident about him? Maybe. But right now, I see in Garcia someone that has the tools and--finally--the will to succeed.