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Practice report: Smelley ready for rivalry

Quarterback No. 7 Chris Smelley passes in the first quarter of the annual Garnet and Black Spring Game. Smelley and opposing quarterback Tommy Beecher in the annual scrimmage threw eight interceptions.
Quarterback No. 7 Chris Smelley passes in the first quarter of the annual Garnet and Black Spring Game. Smelley and opposing quarterback Tommy Beecher in the annual scrimmage threw eight interceptions. The State

News of the day As a native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., USC quarterback Chris Smelley understands what it’s like living with a college football rivalry year-round.

While Smelley was reluctant to rank the Iron and Palmetto bowls, he appreciates what he’s getting into Saturday when he makes his first start against Clemson at Death Valley.

“I grew up with the Alabama-Auburn rivalry. That was always big. I’m not real sure how they compare, but it seems just as big or bigger,” said Smelley, whose younger brother is a tight end for the Crimson Tide. “I know it’s a big game for the state.”

It’s a big game for Smelley, as well. After sharing snaps with Stephen Garcia the past two games, Smelley has been given the keys to the Gamecocks’ offense. How long he gets to drive will depend on his ability to deliver the ball on time and avoid the interceptions that ended the Gamecocks’ upset hopes early in their 56-6 loss at Florida.

“Just get out there and trust my protection, take my steps and throw the ball,” Smelley said when asked what he must do to be successful. “There’s times at practice it kind of clicks and looks good. That’s what we need to do out there Saturday.”

Smelley, who is 9-5 as a starter, has an opportunity to join an exclusive fraternity if he can guide the Gamecocks to a win.

“I know that’s a thing that people look back on – how you play against Clemson. That says a lot about what people think about you when you’re gone,” Smelley said. “This is my first game to start versus them, first time to play against them. So hopefully it will go well.”

Stock rising Seldom-used tailbacks. With No. 2 tailback Eric Baker ruled out with a sprained ankle, USC coach Steve Spurrier said senior Bobby Wallace and sophomore Brian Maddox would share the backup duties behind Mike Davis. Maddox missed six games with a sprained knee.

“He’s been out for a while, so he’s fresh,” Spurrier said. “His legs are pretty good. He still wears that little knee brace. But he’s looked close to full speed.”

Stock falling USC’s chances of playing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Officials from the Atlanta-based game will scout the Gamecocks at Clemson, but it seems unlikely USC will wind up in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve. On his weekly Chick-fil-A blog, former NFL coach Leeman Bennett said USC “needs a win at Clemson to give them a real shot at our game,” adding Chick-fil-A officials prefer nationally ranked teams with eight wins.

But the Outback will snatch up an eight-win USC team, and could still select the Gamecocks if they lose to the Tigers. However, if USC gets blown out by Clemson and Kentucky handles Tennessee, the Outback could go with Kentucky, bumping the Gamecocks to the Music City against an ACC team on Dec. 31.

Injury report Baker, who sprained his ankle on one of the last plays at Florida, is out. Spurrier said the freshman “just can’t push off.” Quarterback Stephen Garcia, who returned after missing two days with a stomach ailment, “looked like he’d lost a little weight,” Spurrier said.

Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson said cornerbacks Captain Munnerlyn (toe) and Carlos Thomas (knee) and safety Akeem Auguste (hamstring) are less than 100 percent, but all would play vs. Clemson.

Quote of the day “I think they say I’ve got the most solid mustache. Everybody else’s is kind of thin in that area. Garcia’s is getting pretty thick. (Tackle Justin) Sorensen, I think he’s got more hair on his chin than he does on the rest of his body, -- Smelley on the beards that have become popular among USC players.

Extra point Tommy Beecher, who started the N.C. State opener and hasn’t been heard from since, will be the No. 2 quarterback at Clemson.

“I think he’s ready to play some. Hopefully, he’ll step in there and play well if we need him,” Spurrier said. “But again, we’re trying to give Chris most of the game.”

Earlier this week Spurrier said he might use Garcia on an occasional running play.