And the winner is ....
After a week of again looking through his three-man quarterback rotation, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier stuck with his old standby. Smelley, the redshirt freshman who's started five of the six games he's played this year, will most likely start when the No. 15 Gamecocks take on Tennessee on Saturday.
"There's a good chance Chris Smelley will play," Spurrier announced after practice Thursday. "Haven't announced anything officially yet. We got Blake (Mitchell) and Tommy Beecher ready to go, but in all likelihood, Chris Smelley will have a chance to go the distance."
Spurrier pointed out the Gamecocks' best three offensive games this season -- a 38-3 win over S.C. State, a 38-21 win over Mississippi State and a 38-23 win over Kentucky -- have come when Smelley started and that he was statistically the best option. Mitchell, who's started the other three games, and Beecher, who received increased reps at practice this week, will be ready in case the Volunteers are too much for Smelley in the early going.
Smelley has thrown for 1,136 yards on 89-of-157 passing, with nine touchdowns and six interceptions. He's also been the best choice behind the Gamecocks' beleaguered offensive line, proving he can scramble out of trouble when the rush comes in.
None of the QBs have been consistent this year, the line's shoddy blocking contributing to poor decision-making. Smelley and Mitchell combined to throw three interceptions last week in a 17-6 loss to Vanderbilt, while Beecher hasn't taken a snap since the S.C. State game, where he committed two turnovers.
Beecher, a scrambler in high school who cemented the backup spot behind Mitchell last year, said he was looking forward to another chance in practice this week but was fine with whatever time he could get.
"Yeah, I'm excited for the opportunity," Beecher said. "But nothing's for certain. It all depends on how we practice out here."
Spurrier apparently saw what he wanted out of Smelley, who's started the past four games. Spurrier mentioned earlier this week that whoever got the nod would have a chance to go the distance against Tennessee, preferring one QB under center for the duration, instead of the in-game switch USC used against Louisiana-Lafayette, S.C. State, LSU and Vanderbilt.
He also pointed out Beecher wasn't that far behind Smelley in practice.
"Beecher's ready, too, now," Spurrier said. "But Chris has played a little more."