COLUMBIA -- Stephen Garcia will have to wait at least a week for his first career start, but South Carolina fans will not have to wait long to see the second-year quarterback Saturday against Alabama-Birmingham.
After spending much of the week talking about Garcia, USC coach Steve Spurrier announced Thursday that redshirt sophomore Chris Smelley would remain the starter, but would give way to Garcia in the first quarter.
"He's not starting, but he's going to be in there early," Spurrier said. "So he's going to get a chance to play. He's going to get a chance to play a lot."
Disappointed with the offense's effort level, Spurrier held what he described as "tryouts" this week for every offensive position. But when the dust settled at the wind-swept Bluff Road practice fields Thursday night, there were only three new offensive starters -- one of which was necessitated by suspension.
Never miss a local story.
Sophomore Brian Maddox will start at tailback in place of the suspended Mike Davis, one of four players sidelined for violating the athletics department's class attendance policy.
Second-year receivers Joe Hills and Jason Barnes also will start against the Blazers. It will be the second career starts for Hills and Barnes, both of whom were part of the 2007 receiving class that Rivals.com ranked No. 1 in the nation.
They step in for junior Moe Brown and sophomore Dion LeCorn, who caught the game-sealing 17-yard touchdown pass against the Terriers. Brown and LeCorn are expected to play.
All-SEC receiver Kenny McKinley will miss his third consecutive game with a right hamstring injury.
Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson did not conduct any tryouts. But with defensive end Jordin Lindsey suspended for missing classes, Johnson will have his first new starter after using the same lineup the first four games.
Clifton Geathers, a 6-7, 290-pound sophomore, will make his first career start, although Johnson said defensive tackle Nathan Pepper also could line up at end.
As usual with a Spurrier-coached team, the big news was the Head Ball Coach's quarterback decision.
Minutes after last week's 23-13 win against Wofford, Spurrier -- without prompting -- said it might be time for the Gamecocks to take a longer look at Garcia, a redshirt freshman whose only game experience was three snaps against Georgia.
Smelley leads the SEC in completion percentage and is fourth in passing efficiency, but Spurrier has been disappointed in the right-hander's inability to make the deep throws that are the trademark of Spurrier's offense.
Spurrier decided to stick with Smelley, who is 5-4 as a starter, but with the promise of early action for Garcia. Like everyone else, Spurrier said he is eager to see what the strong-armed Garcia can do for a longer stretch in a game.
"He's going to go play. He's just not starting," Spurrier said. "He may end up playing most of the game, who knows? People make too much out of who's starting around here."
Spurrier said Smelley and Garcia both practiced well this week, adding he would not limit the offense for Garcia.
"If he's going to play, he's got to go play and run our offense," Spurrier said on his call-in show. "So he's pretty capable. He should know most all of it."
On Wednesday evening, a day before Spurrier announced his decision, Garcia said he was excited for his chance, but also stood up for Smelley.
"I don't think Smelley did anything wrong to not deserve the starting job," Garcia said.
WANT TO GO?
UAB (1-3, 0-1 CONFERENCE USA) AT USC (2-2, 0-2 SEC)
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia
• TV: Pay-per-view
• Tickets: Available at 1-800-4SC-FANS