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stephen garcia, university of south carolina

South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia had one of the worst games of his career in the Chick-Fil-A bowl against Florida State.

After throwing just nine interceptions during the entire 2010 regular season, Garcia threw three picks in the first half against the Seminoles – staking Florida State to a 10-point halftime lead. Garcia also completed just 56 percent of his passes against the ‘Noles – well below his season average of 64.2 percent.

Favored heading into the game, South Carolina wound up losing 26-17 – although most of the post-game focus was on the first half injury to star freshman running back Marcus Lattimore, not Garcia’s poor play.

That’s understandable. With Lattimore out of the lineup last season, South Carolina coughed up a huge second half lead against Kentucky and put just 21 points on the board against Vanderbilt.

They were helpless, in other words …

With Lattimore? They defeated multiple SEC powerhouses including Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee en route to the school’s first-ever SEC East championship.

But was the loss of Lattimore the only reason head coach Steve Spurrier’s team choked in its third consecutive bowl game?

“Not so much,” we’re hearing …

Multiple sources tell FITS that Garcia – who is known to party like a rock star – was involved in a massive, all-night bender in his hotel room the night before the bowl game. In fact, Garcia’s alleged party became so raucous that the S.C. Highway Patrol – which provided security for the team during its stay in Atlanta – was called to investigate.

Upon entering Garcia’s hotel room, they are said to have discovered the quarterback in a highly-intoxicated state in the company of five different young women – two of whom were completely naked.

We know, we know … more power to him, right? He’s 21 years old, and there’s obviously no law (yet) against enjoying some female companionship.

But what happened after the quarterback was busted?

Rather than let Garcia sleep his big night off, our sources say that the USC coaching staff forced him to run on a treadmill while he was still hungover. There was reportedly even talk of benching him for the bowl game – or at least sitting him out for a series.

Obviously Spurrier chose to start him, but Garcia clearly wasn’t himself.

Garcia is a rising senior who is coming off of his best season ever (3,059 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, 148.7 quarterback rating). Still, he’s notoriously undisciplined and hasn’t impressed coaches with his work ethic – or lack thereof.

He’s also no stranger to trouble. After a pair of arrests in 2007 (his redshirt year), Garcia was busted again in 2008 for underage drinking.

Sources close to the S.C. Highway Patrol have confirmed the first-hand accounts we’ve been provided about Garcia’s big night in Atlanta, although no one from the agency will go on the record. Also, the University of South Carolina has declined to comment on the allegations.

Whatever happened in Atlanta, we’re not trying to bash Garcia. We’re big fans of his, actually – and he’s obviously the most talented quarterback the Gamecocks have had in some time (perhaps since Steve Taneyhill).

Garcia is also an honest-to-God “football player” – a tough runner who takes big hits and hangs in the pocket even when its collapsing – which is probably the biggest compliment you can pay a quarterback.

Still … Garcia has yet to fully realize his potential, in large part because he remains unfocused and undisciplined off the field.

That’s fine when you’re a redshirt freshman, but it’s inexcusable from a fifth-year senior.

Anyway, let’s hope 2011 is the year Garcia puts everything together. South Carolina fans deserve a monster year out of him … and more than any other player save Lattimore, as he goes – so go the Gamecocks.

UPDATE: We are getting conflicting information about whether the incident took place the night before the bowl game or the previous night.

UPDATE II: Garcia suspended.

Pic: Travis Bell, Sideline Carolina