COLUMBIA -- If it were just about finding a quarterback, it'd be simple. South Carolina's got quarterbacks.
What it doesn't have -- and what the Gamecocks need -- is a leader.
Fifth-year senior Blake Mitchell will be back under center today as USC travels to No. 11 Georgia, seeking a 2-0 start, a step up in the SEC standings and the end of a five-year losing streak to its biggest conference rival. Mitchell is obviously the most experienced USC quarterback, starting 17 games over the past three seasons and the only QB on the team who's ever played at Sanford Stadium.
But he's trying to reclaim the leadership role, one coach Steve Spurrier wants him to have and one Mitchell has held off-an-on during his time as starting quarterback.
"I got plenty of leverage out there on offense," Mitchell said in the preseason, wearing the same blank expression he usually sports. "Just got to go out there and play."
Coming into this season, Spurrier mentioned he thought this USC team had the talent to compete in the SEC. His first two seasons, he said, the Gamecocks couldn't expect to be challengers.
A big piece of Spurrier's predictions was Mitchell. Following his first taste of the doghouse last year, Mitchell came off the bench Nov. 4 against Arkansas and almost saved the day. He stayed at starting QB for the rest of the year and played the best football of his career, guiding USC to three straight season-ending wins (the first time since 1973) and winning the MVP award in the Liberty Bowl.
Then preseason practice began and Mitchell was on the side of the field, running wind sprints for missing too much summer class. He served two days, re-joined the first-teamers and most figured no-harm, no-foul.
But then Mitchell was busted -- again -- for missing class and he was told he had to sit out a game, per university policy. Spurrier had no problem with the policy and pointed his starting QB to the bench, mentioning he was disappointed in Mitchell's decisions.
Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher led the Gamecocks last week against Louisiana-Lafayette, scoring 28 points from a semi-open playbook. Spurrier, perhaps not wanting to reveal too much before playing the Bulldogs and perhaps not wanting to throw too much at his backups, utilized a lot of screens and catch-and-runs.
Spurrier stayed quiet on his choice for starting QB this week although it was popular opinion Mitchell was going to be the guy. It was made official Thursday.
Mitchell said he was looking forward to the opportunity and thought he was a leader of the team. Smelley, who is out this week with a sprained shoulder, agreed.
"He's been behind me once he found out he wasn't going to be able to play," Smelley said last week. "Even out at practice he's kind of been giving me some tips and stuff like that."
But now Mitchell is back in his accustomed spot. He should probably stay there, since Beecher and freshman Stephen Garcia are the only ones behind him, but that all depends on his performance.
Mitchell can be a big-time college quarterback -- he's proven that with his late-season performance last year. But beginning today, he's got to prove he's a leader.
"He seems to be OK," Spurrier said.
"I have a chance for a big year," Mitchell said. "I just have to play."
• South Carolina defensive end Jordin Lindsay had an NCAA eligibility appeal turned down, meaning he won't be able to play this season.
Athletic department Steve Fink said Friday that Lindsey, a senior, would remain on scholarship with the team and would take this as a redshirt season.
Lindsey, a 6-foot-3, 256-pound senior, started 15 of 25 games the last two years. He was the starter for South Carolina's final five games, which included close losses to Arkansas (26-20) and Florida (17-16), and victories over Middle Tennessee, Clemson and Houston in the Liberty Bowl.
Lindsey recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass in the bowl game, a 44-36 win over Houston last December.
Lindsey did not play in South Carolina's season-opening 28-14 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette while awaiting a final decision on his academic status.
Lindsey's twin brother, linebacker Dustin, was placed back on scholarship this season. He had been declared academically ineligible after the 2005 season, reapplied for admission and worked with the scout team last fall.
Freshman defensive lineman Travian Robertson started at defensive end a week ago.