South Carolina may not pick a starting quarterback until the fall, but the Gamecocks will be eliminating contenders shortly after spring practice begins Tuesday.
As the team enters its first practice session under new head coach Will Muschamp, it lists all five scholarship quarterbacks – senior Perry Orth, junior Connor Mitch, sophomores Lorenzo Nunez and Michael Scarnecchia and freshman Brandon McIlwain – as co-starters.
“You can’t rep five guys so we’ve got to whittle it down very quickly on the guys that can make explosive plays for us and take care of the football,” Muschamp said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Muschamp has structured South Carolina’s practices to give each quarterback as many repetitions as possible, and the Gamecocks will be working an offense versus a defense on two fields simultaneously often this spring.
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“We have to find one of those guys, two of those guys or three of those guys as quickly as possible to move forward with,” Muschamp said.
There is no firm timetable on when contenders might drop out of the competition, but it seemed clear during Mushamp’s Monday news conference that it wasn’t going to take long. Each player will get relatively equal practice snaps before any decision is made, the coach said.
“We want to be fair to those guys in those situations, but also be fair to our football team and understand you have to make these decisions quickly because you can’t rep five guys,” Muschamp said.
Orth, a former walk-on, enters the race with the most experience. He started eight games last year, completing 54.8 percent of his passes for 1,929 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Nunez, who started two games, completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Mitch, who won the starting job out of fall camp only to suffer shoulder and hip injuries, started two games and completed 44.8 percent of his passes for 165 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. Scarnecchia threw one pass last season, while McIlwain is a four-star recruit who enrolled early in order to join this competition this spring.
McIlwain “has done exactly what my expectations were of him, to come in here and work extremely hard,” Muschamp said. “I’ve been very pleased. It’s hard for me to sit there and judge anyone off a situation I wasn’t involved in, but I have been pleased with all those guys work ethic and their approach to being the quarterback at South Carolina. There is no lack of want-to out of any of the five. They all want to be a part of that conversation. That’s exciting to see. We will see how they do when the bullets start flying.”
Whittling the rotation from five to three is one thing. Getting from three to one is another.
“I would love to name a starter after spring (practice), but if we’re not ready to do that, we will take it through to fall camp,” Muschamp said. “Those guys understand how critical the reps are for them every time they are out there.”