Blake Mitchell could still be the starting quarterback when South Carolina runs out to '2001' next Saturday night before facing Louisiana-Lafayette in the 2007 season opener.
Mitchell, a fifth-year senior, is appealing his one-game suspension for missing too many summer classes, head coach Steve Spurrier said late Thursday afternoon.
As a result, while Chris Smelley has been tentatively named by Spurrier the starting quarterback for the opening contest against the Ragin' Cajuns, he will step aside if Mitchell is successful on his appeal.
"From what I understand, Blake is trying to appeal his situation," Spurrier said. "I was told he was out. If he is out, Chris Smelley will start the (opener). If Blake is in, Blake will start the game. That's about as simple as I can say it. I'm just around here waiting for them to tell me what's going on."
Mitchell, along with reserve running back Bobby Wallace and cornerback Chris Hail, was suspended in accordance with athletic department policy earlier on Thursday.
Mitchell practiced on Thursday but Smelley and Tommy Beecher took most of the snaps in practice, Spurrier said.
"We let Chris and Tommy get most of the action today," Spurrier said.
Spurrier didn't try to make excuses for Mitchell, who has started 17 games for USC.
"Blake should have gone to class better this summer, I know that," Spurrier said. "So if he has to miss one, we'll live with it. But if he's eligible to play, we'll live with that too. I'm flexible either way with it. I'm 100 percent behind our class attendance policy. Only one or two guys are in trouble. That's the way it is."
Spurrier made it plain that the decision to suspend Mitchell and the other two players was made by the university and/or the athletic department, not by him.
"I had heard about a month ago that some may have to miss (a game)," Spurrier said. "They were supposed to miss, so they'll miss. That's the policy, and we'll adhere to it. I'm just the coach. They tell me who's in and who's out as far as that goes."
But Spurrier insisted he will move forward with preparations for Louisiana-Lafayette with the players that are eligible to play. Even if Mitchell wins his appeal, all three quarterbacks could play in the season opener anyways, he said.
"If these guys have to sit out, it's not going to bother me," Spurrier said. "They didn't go to class like they should have. If Blake's in, he'll play."
It was initially announced that senior defensive end Jordin Lindsey had been suspended for the first game as well but he's now been cleared to play. However, he's still waiting for the NCAA to grant a waiver allowing him to play this season.
If Mitchell's appeal is unsuccessful, Smelley, a redshirt freshmen, will make the first start of his career. He appeared briefly in the initial two games last season, completing 9-of-15 passes for 112 yards, before a heel injury prevented him from taking another snap. The NCAA granted his request for a medical hardship.
Smelley, a record setting prep quarterback in Alabama, signed with USC in February of 2006 out of American Christian Academy in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"If I get the chance to start, I'll go out there and play as hard as I can and hopefully do everything I can to make this team win," Smelley said. "I definitely feel a lot better than I did last year against Mississippi State. Now I feel comfortable with the offense. I have confidence that I can go out there and help this team win."
Should Smelley start, redshirt sophomore Tommy Beecher will take some snaps as well, Spurrier said. Smelley and Beecher have battled throughout fall camp for the No. 2 QB job behind Mitchell.
Beecher admitted he has mixed emotions about the entire episode.
"I know that Chris and I are ready to go in there if called upon and we're confident," Beecher said. "I'm excited but I want Blake out there. It's his last year. He's worked hard over the summer. It would be great to see him out there. We're excited about watching Blake play out there."
Spurrier has previously praised Smelley and Beecher for the progress they made over the summer and said they are "ready to play."
"I was a little bit shocked at first (when I heard about the suspensions)," Smelley said. "I just told myself that if I get a chance, I've got to be prepared. I've got to prepare myself mentally and be ready to go. Coach Spurrier is a real hands on coach. He's been out here with us everyday."
With Smelley and Beecher calling the signals, Spurrier could rely more on the backfield tandem of Cory Boyd and Mike Davis. Boyd was part of the same 2003 signing class as Mitchell, and still has confidence in the LaGrange, Ga. native despite his recent academic woes.
But, speaking with Mitchell today, Boyd said he sensed some frustration from his friend and teammate.
"He felt from missing the two practices earlier that his punishment was settled and everything was done," Boyd said. "I guess it wasn't clarified or things weren't cleared up. I'll never lose faith in Blake. We came in together. I keep telling him to keep striving. This is just a little bump in the road that he needs to get over. I think this is the last time you'll hear something bad about Blake."
HUNT DISCUSSES OFFENSIVE LINE: The USC offensive line has slowly but progressively taken shape over the course of the three weeks of fall camp. In Wednesday night's final scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium, the line, by all accounts, performed as well against USC's defensive line as it has all fall. But offensive line coach John Hunt isn't ready to commit to a starting five and expects his unit to play better.
"I thought we did a lot of good things, but when we screwed up they were big which was bothersome to me," Hunt said following the scrimmage. "We had sacks, mental errors and stuff like that. Those things are drive killers. You can't have any consistency with those things. Coach (Spurrier) called a good scrimmage and our defense is going to be pretty tough this year."
The starting unit in Wednesday's scrimmage was LT Jamon Meredith, LG Gurminder Thind, C William Brown, RG James Thompson and RT Justin Sorensen.
"I'm anxious to look at the guard spot," Hunt said. "I gave Gurminder Thind a chance to slide over to guard from tackle because he's one of our best pass blockers. So we'll see what that will do."
Thind played left tackle last season before an injury in the second game against Georgia forced him to sit out the rest of the season. Thin d could still play both positions, Hunt said.
Once Hunt found the right combination last year in the middle of the victory over Vanderbilt, he stuck with the same five players the rest of the way.
"I like to stay with five (lineman) the whole game because they can get a feel for what's happening and (they can) see different things the defense is doing," Hunt said. "They can react quicker the next time."
What's been plaguing the offensive for most of fall camp? A "little bit of everything," Hunt says.
"Some of my more talented ones are having mental issues with assignments and then the less talented ones have great mental capacity but have physical issues," Hunt said. "It's the darndest thing. I've got a good group of guys and we're going to keep working. They want to do well."
Two linemen that likely won't be part of the equation in 2007 are Quinton Richardson and Kyle Nunn. Both will probably redshirt, Hunt said.
Despite having 17 scholarship players, Hunt has managed to give every one a chance to show what they can do. It has also had the effect of making the
"You can look in their eyes and see that its affecting some of the (them)," Hunt said. "Having guys in there that we can coach will create competition. Competition is great. We haven't had that before because of lack of numbers. Now we have the numbers that can foster that competition."
LEMUEL JEANPIERRE: Lemuel Jeanpierre is competing with James Thompson for the starting job at right guard, and is currently the backup to the senior from Sumter, S.C.
Jeanpierre has taken Spurrier's previous criticism of the offensive line to heart.
"You don't want to hear that because you are a part of that group," Jeanpierre said. "It's just the truth coming out. You've got to work hard to change that."
Jeanpierre shifted from the defensive line in the latter stages of spring practice. Jeanpierre says he's making a smooth transition to the offensive line.
"I think I made some big strides. I'm still learning everyday," Jeanpierre said. "Coach Spurrier told me I was a pretty good athlete and I could get more playing time on the O-line. Coach Spurrier would not have asked me to make the change if it wasn't in my best interest. I still feel pretty confident about it."
BRINKLEY NAMES TO WALTER CAMP LIST: Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley has been named one of 35 "players to watch" by the Walter Camp Football Foundation for its Player of the Year award.
Brinkley was a first-team All-SEC selection by the Associated Press in 2006 after registering a team-high 107 tackles, including 85 solo stops, an average of 8.2 tackles per game.
Brinkley was earlier named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy pre-season Watch List. That trophy is awarded to the best defensive
player in college football.
The Walter Camp Trophy watch list will be narrowed to ten semi-finalists in early November. The 2007 recipient of the award, which is voted on by the 119 NCAA Division I-A coaches and sports information directors, will be announced on the ESPN/Home Depot College Football Awards Show in December. Last year's winner was Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith.
2007 FALL PRACTICE COUNTDOWN
Practices Held - 23
Practices Left - 7
Next Practice - Fri., Aug. 24, 4:15 p.m. (Closed)
-- USC will practice Friday at 4:15 p.m. and Saturday morning before taking Sunday off as the mandatory one-day break during game week.
-- Mike Davis "is not too bad" with a bruised shoulder sustained in Wednesday night's scrimmage, Spurrier said. "He got a shot on the shoulder but he should play (next Saturday)."
-- Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley, out with a ankle sprain, will likely return to practice sometime next week, Spurrier said.
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