COLUMBIA -- South Carolina starting quarterback Blake Mitchell, still in returning mode after missing his first two practices due to suspension, found at least one reason to smile Wednesday. He was one of 35 QBs from across the nation to make the watch list for the Manning Award, given to college football's top signal-caller.
"I guess it's an honor to be named on that list," said Mitchell, low-key as usual. "But I just go out there and play every day."
Mitchell, a fifth-year senior, is seventh in USC history with 4,245 yards and leads the USC record books and SEC returning quarterbacks in career completion percentage (61.2 percent). He has won 11 of his 17 career starts and was the MVP of last year's Liberty Bowl win over Houston, throwing for 323 yards and four touchdowns.
The award, named after the SEC QB triumvirate of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning, is voted on by each Manning and a national panel of college football media. The list will be pared to the final three before the bowl season, and the winner will be announced after the season is over.
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Coach Steve Spurrier said he wasn't aware of Mitchell's selection but said he had the potential to win it.
"He's got the chance to have a big year," Spurrier said. "The quarterbacks on winning teams usually get a lot of awards."
The first three winners of the award were Southern Cal's Matt Leinart, Texas' Vince Young and LSU's JaMarcus Russell. Asked if he had a shot to join them (whether on the award dais or as a first-round NFL draft pick), Mitchell offered his usual shrug.
"Every year I have a chance for a big year," he said. "We always have a chance, we just got to go out there and play."
Mitchell's selection capped a quiet night of practice, where the offense didn't do much drilling but worked on stances and blocking. After a shoddy effort Tuesday drew Spurrier's ire, the coach said he'd decided to shelve a lot of the actual plays in favor of fundamentals.
The Gamecocks will return to plays tonight, the first practice in which they can wear full pads.
"We'll do a little bit more hitting," Spurrier said.
Bobby Wallace, held out of the first four practices with an academic cloud hanging over him, re-joined the team after getting his grades in line. The Lindsey twins, Jordin and Dustin, remained absent while attempting to clear the same hurdle.
Wallace is third on the tailback depth chart behind Cory Boyd and Mike Davis, with several others bidding for the same spot. Freshman Brian Maddox is in that group but is probably headed for a redshirt season, although Spurrier was quick to point out it's not definite.
"They'd have to get hurt for him to play a whole lot," Spurrier said.
Spurrier also announced freshman fullback Patrick DiMarco has switched to outside linebacker, working as a pass-rush specialist in blitz packages.
Also, offensive lineman Garrett Anderson confirmed he'd cracked his hand on the helmet of teammate Ladi Ajiboye in a practice scuffle. Anderson's hand is broken, but it's not expected to keep him out, since he can play with a cast.
"It really frustrated me because it's such a stupid thing," Anderson said. "We were just being aggressive out there and it ends up me being out for a few days."
• SET: USC announced its first two home games, the Sept. 1 season-opener against Louisiana-Lafayette and Sept. 15 vs. S.C. State, will each begin at 7 p.m.
The games will be available on pay-per-view. Interested Rock Hill-area fans should check with Comporium for more information.
• OPEN TO THE PUBLIC: The Gamecocks will hold their first scrimmage at 4:15 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. The event is free and seating will be in the West stands. The practice should last approximately two hours.
• Senior Tigers ready to take on leadership role • 5C