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Spurrier again switching quarterbacks

By PETE IACOBELLI
AP Sports Writer

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - It's about as routine and expected as the leaves changing colors in the fall - South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is shuffling quarterbacks.

This time, it's senior Blake Mitchell on the bench - again - and redshirt freshman Chris Smelley under center to lead the 16th-ranked Gamecocks (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) against Mississippi State on Saturday. And Smelley knows if can't cut it, Spurrier will find someone else who will.

"I guess everybody's got to be prepared," Smelley said this week, "because you never know when you're going to get your shot."

Or lose it.

"Playing quarterback for him is not always easy," said former Gator and current ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer. "But in my opinion it was always rewarding."

Spurrier is becoming known as much for his quick quarterback hook as he is for his powerhouse teams and schemes during 12 seasons at Florida.

Gator standouts like Palmer, Terry Dean, Doug Johnson and Rex Grossman all served at the ball coach's whim, in one week and out the next.

Last season, Spurrier proudly recalled how in 1996 he benched Danny Wuerffel - the eventual Heisman Trophy winner - in the first quarter of the first game of the Gators' national championship season because the offense "looked like they had read their press clippings all summer."

So it's no surprise Spurrier's carried that style to the Gamecocks.

"I guess sometimes y'all ask questions like you're not supposed to substitute or change or try new people," Spurrier said. "To me, that's not bad. That's just giving everybody an opportunity to play."

The Gamecocks hadn't even left the stadium after last Saturday's loss to LSU when Spurrier threw the starting job to Smelley. "You can write that down, there won't be any suspense," he said.

That's usually left for Spurrier's passers.

Palmer remembers meetings when the quarterbacks would shake their heads at their coach's passion for his "Fun'n'Gun" system. "He'd look at us and say, 'I know you guys think I'm crazy. But trust me, I've seen it work."'

"It's not like it's an unproven formula for him," Palmer said.

That's what Spurrier's trying to teach his latest group of passers.

Smelley got the start for a suspended Mitchell in the Gamecocks' 28-14 opening victory over Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 1. A botched read led Smelley to take a hard hit and injure his shoulder. "I hope he learned something from that," Spurrier said.

Smelley said he has. He's also learned to do things Spurrier's way.

"He knows what he wants from a quarterback and if you're not producing like you should, he might give someone else a shot," Smelley said.

No one's felt that more the past two seasons than Mitchell.

He started 11 of 12 games in Spurrier's debut season, helping the Gamecocks to a school-record five-game SEC win streak and landmark victories over Tennessee and Florida.

Spurrier thought Mitchell had a chance to be one of the league's top quarterbacks in 2006 and said so before the season. But Mitchell was ineffective early on and found himself benched in favor of Syvelle Newton, a more versatile QB who could run as well as pass.

Mitchell got another chance later in the season and delivered with his best stretch as the Gamecocks won their final three games.

Spurrier hoped Mitchell would build off that success this fall. But five games in, Mitchell is on the sidelines.

Spurrier said Mitchell holds the ball too long, losing big-play chances by not releasing his throws to spots receivers are expected to be. And then there's Mitchell's attitude, which also puzzles Spurrier.

The coach has yelled at times to get Mitchell's attention. "He doesn't yell back," Spurrier said a couple of weeks ago.

"So I won't be too hard on Blake. He's our quarterback and I guess he's going to take us as far as we're going to go," the coach continued.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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