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September 14, 2011
A prominent South Carolina football player surpassed an important career milestone with little fanfare this past weekend.
In case you haven't heard, quarterback Stephen Garcia reached 7,000 career passing yards after throwing for 142 yards in last week's huge conference win at Georgia.
The accomplishment was buried amidst the post-game avalanche of criticism and consternation from Steve Spurrier and Gamecock Nation about how USC has gone about attaining an unbeaten record after two games.
In a way, that's good because it shows the program is maturing and becoming more and more like a true SEC program with ever-higher standards and expectations. In this conference, the philosophy has always been criticize first, praise later. It's a Pavlov's dog (classical conditioning) response.
But would anybody out there rather be winless Georgia right now? Didn't think so. What USC needs is a lopsided win in which it easily covers the spread. That should make most fans happy.
Garcia was wild early in the Georgia game, overthrowing several semi-open receivers. But he settled down and made some nice throws to Alshon Jeffery (the 34-yard touchdown and fourth-down passes were beautifully executed) and Ace Sanders (scramble pass for a 30-yard completion) to help spark the win.
His lack of consistency in the early portion of the season (18-for-40, 45 percent, two touchdowns, two interceptions) has frustrated Spurrier, who is frantically trying to get USC's passing offense on track.
But here's the thing about Garcia - USC doesn't need him to make big plays. All he needs to do now is throw the ball in Jeffery's general direction or hand the ball off to Marcus Lattimore, which is what he has done a lot of in the fourth quarter so far.
Garcia becoming just the third quarterback in school history to reach the 7,000-yard plateau reinforced in my mind how underappreciated he is. Here's a guy who will likely finish among the top two USC quarterbacks in a number of categories, including total passing yards and TD passes.
And if USC takes care of business, he will depart USC as the winningest quarterback in school history. Right now, Garcia is 18-13. Only Todd Ellis and Steve Taneyhill (20) have won more games as a starting USC QB.
He will certainly get the chance to reach that record because USC has seven straight SEC games after Saturday's home-opener against Navy and Spurrier has no intention of benching Garcia, unless he plays so poorly that the coach is left with no alternative.
Even if he does achieve 25 or more wins, I'm convinced Garcia will depart as the most criticized, demonized and scrutinized player in recent memory. And you probbaly need binoculars to see who No. 2 is.
If you think about it, Garcia could share a common destiny with athletic director Eric Hyman. Both could leave Columbia as much loathed as they are beloved.
Hyman is back in the news again because of the rumors floating out of Chapel Hill that he is one of the leading contenders for the athletic director job at his alma mater.
For those who dislike Hyman and wouldn't mind seeing him take another job, I caution you: Be careful what you ask for.
I've never gotten all the animosity for Hyman. I suspect the hostility is mostly coming from long-time fans who once gladly received free certain benefits that they must now pay for, such as parking and permanent seat licenses.
Also, I also believe some resentment still lingers among older fans that were around during USC's ACC days, because Hyman is a North Carolina graduate.
But that's part of the business. I suspect some older Tennessee fans reacted negatively when the Vols recently hired an Alabama graduate as their new AD. Where was he working? Tuscaloosa.
As I've said before, the new revenue streams created within the last few years by the USC athletic department were necessary if the Gamecocks were truly going to become serious about competing successfully in the SEC.
Spurrier has often commented that some Gamecock players are unable to handle success. In a way, the same argument holds true for a segment of the Gamecock fan base. Sadly, they would rather pay less and USC remain mediocre instead of paying a little more and USC competing with - and often beating - the more established programs in the SEC and its bitter in-state rival.
USC is 7-4 against Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Clemson over the last three seasons (2009-11). In the past, some USC fans would have regarded it as a positive if that record was reversed. No more.
That success didn't happen by accident.
Sure, I haven't agreed with everything Hyman has done, and the jury is still out on the Darrin Horn hire, but the good things Hyman has accomplished overwhelm the mistakes.
Hyman was brought in from TCU with one important mission - rebuild and upgrade USC's facilities. In that regard, he has done a magnificent job. Some USC fans underestimate the importance of facilities in the recruiting process.
Assuredly, great players like Jeffery, Lattimore and Jadeveon Clowney would not have signed with USC without the huge monetary commitment to improving facilities that we've seen over the last five years or so.
But the facilities were built and now they're here. And what those elite players have brought is a mindset many Gamecock fans aren't accustomed to - they expect to win every time they take the field.
It's time for some USC fans to catch up.
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