The South Carolina Gamecocks’ quarterback play was a revolving door in 2016. Three signal callers saw action last season with Brandon McIlwain and then Perry Orth checking in first and second. Both struggled to get the South Carolina offense going. Then came the Gamecocks bye week, in which another change was made under center.
Enter: Jake Bentley.
Following the bye week, Bentley took over for good. And he impressed and then some. Bentley completed nearly 66 percent of his throws for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions in seven games. His best stretch came against UMass, Tennessee and Missouri, where he led South Carolina to wins over all three opponents.
While Bentley’s sample size is small, he certainly looks the part. In fact, if he does play all 12 games for the Gamecocks in 2017, he could become one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
He is that good.
So far during the offseason, Bentley has received a lot praise, notably so from Greg McElroy:
Greg McElroy's full quote on Jake Bentley vs. Jacob Eason comparison pic.twitter.com/CO01eIdY9o— Brad Crawford (@BCrawford247) April 3, 2017
McElroy isn’t the only high-profiled person to give resounding remarks about Bentley. Archie and Eli Manning also have given praise to the South Carolina gunslinger.
In an interview with The State’s Josh Kendell, Archie stated that he believes Bentley will be a good player and he’s kind of got an it factor about him.
While some may think these claims maybe ridiculous, there is data that has shown Bentley was more impressive then what some saw on the surface.
Pro Football Focus released data showing Bentley is SEC’s returning leading thrower when it comes to deep passes. Bentley completed 58.6 percent of his passes that traveled 20 or more yards. That was a good 10 percent better than second-place Austin Allen of Arkansas.
PFF: Among returning SEC QBs, nobody was better throwing the ball downfield than South Carolina's Jake Bentley pic.twitter.com/rYPMj4GTSC— Sports Politicen (@sportspoliticen) May 17, 2017
Now remember, Bentley’s sample size is small. But if one takes a look at his performance against Missouri, it will show just how efficient of a deep thrower the young signal caller is.
In the game against the Tigers, Bentley was 6-of-7 for 130 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions on throws for 20 yards or more.
Here are a couple of his downfield passes against Missouri:
Watching these clips should make any South Carolina fan excited. And the good thing for the Gamecocks is that Bentley will have a wealth of talent to throw to in 2017.
When healthy, wide receiver Deebo Samuel is a top-tier pass catcher. Tight end Hayden Hurst is another reliable target too. Overall, South Carolina returns its top two rushers and top six receivers from 2016.
Although the skill group around Bentley is talented, the greatest concern that may hold the signal caller back from reaching his potential is the offensive line. The 2016 offensive line gave up 41 sacks. That was worst in the SEC. However, the line does return four starters. But, they have juggled some positions.
Heading into this season, the Gamecocks’ line looks like Alan Knott at center, Zack Bailey at right tackle, Malik Young or Sadarius Hutcherson at left tackle, and Donell Stanley and Cory Helms at guard. The line should see improvements in 2017, but if it doesn’t, Bentley has shown he can produce under duress.
According to the numbers from PFF, Bentley had a quarterback rating of 86.2 under pressure. That was far and away better than any other returning SEC signal caller.
No returning QB in the SEC was better under pressure than South Carolina's Jake Bentley in 2016. pic.twitter.com/BUweMvoS0R— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) June 12, 2017
A year ago, Bentley was forgotten at third on the depth chart. But now, there is virtually every piece needed for him to take the next step.
Bentley looks poised to lead South Carolina into being a darkhorse contender for the SEC East title. Plus, he’s very capable of producing more upsets like the one he helped orchestrate against Tennessee last year.
Head coach Will Muschamp’s track record with quarterbacks is less than stellar. But now, it seems like he has finally found the dependable quarterback he has been looking for in Bentley. And if Bentley is able to improved from his impressive freshman season, Muschamp may have landed one of the best signal callers in college football.