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March 25, 2011

Mailbag: Time for a QB change in Columbia?

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Auburn won a national championship with a first-year starting quarterback. So did Alabama, LSU and Tennessee.

Could it be experience at that position is overrated? Cameron Newton obviously was a difference-maker for Auburn, but hasn't it been proven that when surrounded by elite talent, an unproven quarterback can win big by making good decisions and managing the game?

That was the case with Alabama's Greg McElroy in 2009 and with LSU's Matt Flynn in 2007. Tennessee's Tee Martin even fits that description to some degree, although he did make his share of big plays in '98.

Therefore, coaches -- especially in the SEC -- may be more inclined to go with an inexperienced player, particularly if older quarterbacks on the roster aren't always reliable.

As we see in this week's mailbag, that would seem a possibility for at least one SEC team.


Change of QBs in Columbia?

The one thing South Carolina fans can count on is that QB Stephen Garcia is going to get into trouble. Do you think Steve Spurrier has had enough and if it's a close race for the starting quarterback job that it will go to Connor Shaw?
Allen
Marshall, Mich
.

Garcia was suspended for the first week of spring practice for breaking an undisclosed team rule. Apparently, he broke curfew at the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Coach Steve Spurrier did not confirm that was the reason for the suspension, though he did say it was something that hadn't occurred recently and that he was just getting around to setting the punishment.

From an on-field perspective, it's no big deal for a senior quarterback to sit out a week of spring practice, especially when the offensive system isn't changing. But the concern in Columbia has to be Garcia's leadership abilities and decision-making.

That was the third time Garcia has been suspended. One has to wonder if Spurrier, who typically has had a quick hook with his quarterbacks, isn't at the end of his patience with Garcia, who is a good quarterback but is by no means a star.

"Sometimes when players are removed from the team, hopefully they'll appreciate the privilege they have of practicing with the team," Spurrier said when he announced Garcia's suspension. "It's no fun not being on the team. Hopefully, all these guys will understand that if they want to be on the team, they should follow the simple rules we have and everybody will be happy."

Spurrier wasn't happy that he had to suspend Garcia. Surely, he's growing tired of reminding Garcia about the "privilege" of being on the team.

Shaw is a good prospect with a lot of talent. Any extra work he might have gotten when Garcia was suspended is a bonus. Obviously, the quicker Shaw develops, the better for South Carolina, regardless of Garcia's status.

Still, don't look for Shaw to take over the offense yet. The Gamecocks should be the favorite to win the SEC East this season, but then they could take a step back.

Brilliant receiver Alshon Jeffery figures to enter the NFL draft after the 2011 season. Powerful running back Marcus Lattimore may follow in 2012. And the division's traditional heavyweights -- Florida, Georgia and Tennessee -- currently are in rebuilding mode. That's not going to last long.

South Carolina has a narrow window of opportunity and needs to do whatever is possible to take full advantage. Starting an experienced, senior quarterback would seem the best option for the Gamecocks.

Of course, Spurrier has shown in the past he won't hesitate to change quarterbacks, which means he'd probably go with Shaw if Garcia screws up again.


RichRod's next job?

What do you think is going to become of Rich Rodriguez? After his poor performance at Michigan, do you think anybody wants him? And what's your take on the new coach and this season?
Pat
Perrysburg, Ohio

Rodriguez's three-year reign Michigan wasn't the monumental disaster some are making it out to be, but it was a major disappointment.

Fifteen victories in three seasons isn't acceptable at many programs and especially not at Michigan, where bowl appearances once were taken for granted.

No question, Rodriguez's coaching reputation has been tarnished by losses, late-season collapses, porous defenses and NCAA infractions.

Yet, as bad as his Michigan tenure was, it doesn't change that Rodriguez built West Virginia into a national power. Some athletic director in need of a good coach for 2012 will consider Rodriguez.

Like Tommy Tuberville and David Cutcliffe, among others, Rodriguez's past success likely will be enough for him to get another chance. He may have to settle for a lower-profile job, like Frank Solich or Dennis Franchione did, but I'd bet he'll be running another program in the not-too-distant future.

What program that is, I cannot say. But Rodriguez's status could be interesting if a certain South Carolina-based ACC school struggles in 2011.


Elite coach for Georgia?

If Georgia has another disappointing season and fires coach Mark Richt, would Georgia draw the interest of the elite coaches from around the nation, as Florida and USC did when they were looking for a new coach?
Calvin
Jacksonville, Fla
.

That depends on what you mean by "elite coaches." If you're asking if Bob Stoops or Nick Saban would be tempted to leave their gigs for Georgia, the answer is no.

But the coaches who would be considered among the best available candidates certainly would be interested.

Look, there are no bad head-coaching jobs at the FBS level; some are just better (in some cases, much, much better) than others. The worst-paid coach makes a six-figure salary, and a USA Today report showed that at least 58 were paid more than $1 million. (The salaries of 10 coaches at private schools were unavailable.)

The best head-coaching jobs are those at an established program with a winning tradition, great fan support, the "No. 1 school" in a fertile recruiting state and, of course, the resources to pay lucrative salaries.

Georgia gets a check mark on all of those.

Georgia has a history of success. Although they finished 6-7 last year, it was the Bulldogs' first losing season in 14 years. They won the SEC championship as recently as 2005, won a national championship in 1980 and have been among the top 10 in the final national polls five times since 2002.

Furthermore, there were 16 prospects from Georgia among the nation's top 250 prospects for 2011. Only Florida, Texas and California had more. The Bulldogs signed nine of those 16 Georgia prospects.

Finally, according to the USA Today report, Richt made more than $2.8 million last season, which put him among the 10 highest-paid coaches on that list.

Clearly, Georgia has everything necessary to attract a top candidate should its coaching position come open.

If Georgia does eventually make a change, the irony is that Richt likely would become the most attractive prospective head coach available for other schools.


All eyes on Texas' QBs

Who will win the Texas quarterback battle? I hear Connor Wood is challenging Garrett Gilbert.
Shane
Spring, Texas

The bet here is Gilbert will hold on to his starting job. Word out of Austin is that he's had a solid spring and has shown improvement. He hasn't been significantly better than Wood or freshman David Ash, who has been impressive, but he's shown enough to maintain his status as the starting quarterback.

Although Gilbert's performance in 2010 was mediocre at best, the playing experience is a bonus. Quarterbacks frequently make major progress in their junior seasons. Vince Young did. So did Colt McCoy.

We'll see if Gilbert continues that trend. Again, the bet here is that he'll be the starter when the season opens.

But if he doesn't quickly show progress in making decisions and avoiding turnovers, coach Mack Brown likely will make a change. After last season's 5-7 debacle, Brown is going to demand production.


Bowl games a losing proposition

With college teams losing gobs of money playing in bowl games, when will we have a playoff? Auburn lost $614,000 playing for the BCS title. No telling how much money Alabama lost the year before. Alabama may win it all again next year and lose money doing it. Shouldn't losing money be enough incentive to dump the bowls and start a playoff system that would make money for the schools?
Rick
Huntsville, Ala
.

It should be, but college presidents and conference commissioners would rather lose money than power.

And remember that programs such as Auburn and Alabama (and most big-time BCS programs) have stadiums that seat 80,000 or more and they sell out seven or eight times a year. Add in television revenue and donations, and big-time programs can afford to take a loss in a bowl game.

At least, they can for now. Perhaps at some point, the expenses of funding other college sports teams and paying escalating coaches salaries (some coordinators now make more than $1 million) will force a playoff.

But don't look for it to happen anytime soon.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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