COLUMBIA — Steve Spurrier delivered a stunner Monday evening about his starting runner for Thursday's opener.

Instead of senior Mike Davis, who's been slowed during camp with a shoulder injury, Spurrier says he'll go with junior Taylor Rank as his No. 1 running back against North Carolina State (8 p.m., ESPN).

With Cory Boyd gone, Davis had been waiting for his turn to start. He'll have to continue to wait, although Spurrier said the Columbia native would likely play early Thursday.

"He looks OK. He looks OK," Spurrier said of Davis. "Taylor Rank's going to start. He's had a little bit better preseason practice. He had a good summer with going to workouts. And Mike did, too. But Mike will be in early. He's ready to play."

Rank, a 6-foot, 214-pounder from Vancouver, Wash., had been practicing with the first team the past week.

Davis injured his shoulder on Aug. 7 during a non-contract drill. He was slow to come back, and then dealt with a stomach bug just before he returned to the field.

"I'm fully behind whatever coach wants to do," Davis said. "I'm going with whatever the coaches want me to do. I'm going to have to live with that."

Davis, who's rushed for 1,658 yards in three seasons, was listed No. 1 on the depth chart issued Sunday.

Rank and sophomore Brian Maddox, who is evidently in the coaches' doghouse, were listed as an "or" for the backup job.

But it's Rank that improbably has a leg up on both of them.

"He's performed well, takes care of the ball, knows what to do," Spurrier said of Rank. "He's a good, solid back. But Mike will be in there, also."

After Davis first suffered the shoulder ding, Maddox vaulted to the No. 1 spot. Spurrier lauded him as ready to take the baton and run with it.

He did, rushing seven times for 48 yards and a score in USC's Aug. 13 scrimmage. But something changed soon after.

Spurrier wouldn't say Monday why Maddox had been passed by Rank.

"You need to ask coach Gillespie all those questions," Spurrier said. "I don't need to answer that."

In case you've forgotten, Rank has started one game before. He was the No. 1 guy against Florida Atlantic in 2006.

And Rank responded, rushing 15 times for 101 yards. He broke off a 44-yarder in a 45-6 victory that Spurrier considers one of the best of his USC tenure.

"They've given me an opportunity before," Rank said earlier in camp, "and you just try and take advantage of everything they give you. ... It's always nice to know that your hard work can pay off sometimes."

Davis and Rank have both said this month that they're close friends.

"Of course I'm not OK with (not starting)," Davis said. "But that's just like my brother, like everyone else."

Extra points

SPUR Darian Stewart (foot) returned to the practice field Monday and is hopeful of playing Thursday night. Spurrier said he likely wouldn't know his status until Wednesday, or maybe even Thursday. ... In a bit of odd news, FB Yvan Banag failed to get his green card and will not be allowed to remain in the country. Banag, from the Atlanta area, was born in Paris. ... Spurrier said signee Darrell "Tez" Simmons will not be admitted this fall to USC; he'll likely attend Fork Union Prep in Virginia.

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