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What if Connor Shaw had redshirted?

The Gamecocks wouldn't be where they are this season without the skillful play of #14. But what if they had been able to keep him another year?

Because of occurrences dating back to 2006, #14 won't be around in '14.
Because of occurrences dating back to 2006, #14 won't be around in '14.
Wesley Hitt

In the winter that followed the 2009 season, the South Carolina Gamecocks were hurting for quarterbacks. They thought they might have found their quarterback for the next two seasons in soon-to-be junior Stephen Garcia, but they didn't feel particularly comfortable with who backed him.

Former starting quarterback and sole class of 2006 (class here indicates high school class) signee Chris Smelley had transferred the previous off-season after he battled with Stephen Garcia (class of 2007) for playing time in 2008 (at times alternating plays) before Garcia "earned" the starting job leading into the Outback Bowl debacle against Iowa.

In 2009, Garcia threw every pass but five for the Gamecocks. And one of those five was thrown by a cornerback (to be fair, the pass was awesome). Heading into spring practice, Reid McCollum (a four-star recruit in the class of 2008) informed Spurrier that he was quitting the team. A few months later, the other class of 2008 quarterback - Aramis Hillary - similarly decided to leave the program.

At that point, the depth chart included only two scholarship quarterbacks - Garcia and redshirt freshman Andrew Clifford. They were joined by walk-ons Seth Strickland and Payton Brady, and one other player - new early enrollee Connor Shaw.

Shaw showed up in 2010 to a program in desperate need of him. With only two scholarship quarterbacks on campus (Dylan Thompson wouldn't enroll until the fall), Shaw had an immediate opportunity to step in and compete for playing time, which he did, driving Hillary from campus and surpassing Andrew Clifford for the back-up spot by the end of fall practice.

To be fair to Spurrier, he didn't waste Shaw in 2010. While only throwing 23 passes, Shaw saw action in eight games, including serious action in the fourth quarter of the Gamecocks' 35-27 loss at Auburn, after two Stephen Garcia fumbles helped turn the tide in that game. Clearly, as early as his freshman season, Spurrier saw enough potential in Shaw to put him in important situations and live with the results. Hell, people in the blogsphere were even considering starting Shaw in the following game against the top-ranked Crimson Tide (Garcia started, and it worked out pretty well).

Of course, we all know how Shaw's remaining three years on campus played out, starting with the East Carolina game, but really picking up steam when Garcia was dismissed from the team and Shaw was named the starter, which he responded to by lighting up Kentucky for 54 points.

Looking back, it's the fault of failed recruiting from 2006-2009 that led to Shaw only spending four years in Columbia. If Smelley becomes the quarterback we'd hoped he could become, or if McCollum stays on campus and develops, then Shaw may have been able to stay off the field in 2010 and grow as a quarterback. Of course, there's no guarantee that he's ready and able to step in as adeptly as he did in 2011 without those experiences. So the Gamecocks 11-2 season may never have occurred had it not been for Shaw being pressed into action in 2010.

As long as we're chasing down this hypothetical, one could also argue that the 11-2 season of 2012 would never have happened if Shaw had redshirted. No, I'm not arguing those 8 games in 2010 were so formative that Shaw wouldn't have competed at the same level he did in 2012 without them. But his classmate, Dylan Thompson, may have considered a transfer had he known he'd potentially behind Shaw for his entire career at Carolina. And without Thompson last season, there's no guarantee that the Gamecocks beat East Carolina, Clemson, or Michigan with Brendan Nosovitch or Perry Orth.

(Of course, Thompson staying meant Nosovitch could redshirt last season, so really playing Connor in 2010 was just Spurrier's way of planning to have Nosovitch around to lead the 2016 Gamecocks. Savvy, Coach).

There are no grand conclusions to be drawn from this post, but it's interesting to run through the hypothetical of how the Gamecocks' fortunes might be different if it weren't for its failed recruiting in the late 00s forcing Shaw into action in 2010. While we'll miss him next season, he's still got at least six more games to play as a Gamecock to cement his legacy as one of the best quarterbacks to ever come through Columbia.

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