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Quarterbacks talk quarterbacks

Tommy Suggs and Todd Ellis
Tommy Suggs and Todd Ellis

So how would you like to be USC's quarterback in 2008?

First of all, know that your every move, wiggle or twitch will be analyzed and fretted over by 80,000-plus fans on fall Saturdays.

Know, too, that your coach will measure your performance against standards that produced six SEC championships and all manner of passing records at Florida - not to mention the Ball Coach, in his time as a college quarterback, won the 1966 Heisman Trophy.

Now, add this fact: Watching games from the USC radio booth will be Todd Ellis and Tommy Suggs, two of the top quarterbacks in school history.

Talk about tough audiences.

Still, if anyone not named Steve Spurrier (senior or junior) is qualified to handicap USC's chances to rebound from a disappointing 6-6 season - most likely with a new starter under center - it's the two men who do the broadcasts. And though both are my-blood-runs-garnet loyalists, Ellis and Suggs also are hard-eyed realists about quarterbacks.

Here's the good news: So far, they like what they see in starter Tommy Beecher.

"I think he'll play the majority of the snaps this year," said Ellis, USC's all-time passing yardage leader (9,953) and No. 2 touchdown producer (49). "No. 1, he knows the system well, and he has a strong arm, while (2007 part-time starter) Chris Smelley has struggled with a shoulder injury.

"Beecher also is slightly more elusive. He just seems the right kid in the right place at the right time. He won't play every snap, but if he gets (the starting job), it'll be hard to get it away from him."

Suggs, who shares USC's single-game passing touchdown record (five, vs. Virginia in 1968) and led the Gamecocks to their only conference title (1969 ACC), concurs.

"(Beecher) comes in, (2005-06 starter Blake) Mitchell is there, and then we recruit (Stephen) Garcia, so it's hard to focus on, 'I've got a shot to be the starter,'" Suggs said. "But now he is. Coach Spurrier said if he had to go right now, he'd go with Beecher, which has got to give him confidence."

Suggs laughed. "That doesn't mean others won't play," he said, noting Spurrier's fascination with freshman Aramis Hillary in addition to Smelley and Garcia. "But coach Spurrier seems to be committed to Beecher, and as long as he stays healthy and performs, he’ll be the starter.”

In that regard, both men can relate to that.

From 1968-70, Suggs threw for a then-record 4,916 yards and 34 touchdowns, taking USC to the second bowl in its history in 1969. Ellis (1986-89) started a school-record 43 consecutive games and took his teams to back-to-back bowls. Neither ever became familiar with the bench.

As broadcasters, Suggs has observed USC football as color analyst for 35 seasons, while Ellis, a former sideline reporter, is entering his fifth season handling play-by-play.

For all their "insider" status, both strive to be Everyman behind the microphone.

"I have three approaches to broadcasting," Suggs said. "One, I assume 90 percent (of his audience) are Carolina fans. Second, we have to be fair, to protect our credibility; when (USC) has a bad play, it's a bad play. Third, I always try to speak to the person who's not a football junkie."

Ellis, who credits former "Voice of the Gamecocks" Bob Fulton for easing his passage to his current role, says he gets as excited calling games as he once did playing them. "My first home game (2004), being next to (Georgia announcer) Larry Munson and (ESPN's) Verne Lundquist - (that was) one of my greatest thrills," he said.

Each still understands the angst that comes with being a quarterback, though. Suggs reels off each of the current candidates' qualifications, then chuckles."The only thing I know with Steve Spurrier is this,” he said. “You'd better be ready to play.’

- Bob Gillespie