Perry Orth will be South Carolina’s backup quarterback in Saturday’s game against Kentucky, but really the Gamecocks have no backup plan. This is now freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain’s football team.
“I don’t expect (McIlwain) to struggle,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. “I expect him to play well, and that’s what our plan is going into the game.”
Across the SEC and the country, freshmen quarterback are becoming more and more part of the plan going forward. Where once starting a true freshman quarterback was unthinkable, it’s becoming almost commonplace in football. In the SEC alone, Alabama, Georgia and the Gamecocks are starting a true freshman. Across the country, traditional powers Florida State and Texas are as well.
“I think a lot of it has to do with players coming out for the NFL Draft, at all positions, not just quarterback,” Muschamp said. “Quarterback is the one we focus on, but I think it's all positions there are more guys coming out for the draft. So there are more younger players playing now at all positions. The quarterback is obviously the focal point.”
McIlwain, who enrolled at South Carolina in January and participated in spring practice, has handled his new position well despite his youth, Muschamp said.
“There’s a lot being thrown at him right now, as far as scheme, playing on the road,” Muschamp said. “Whether you agree or not, that position is the leader of your team, because of the importance of that position playing well. So he understands all those things, and he’s handling all those things, I think, very well.
“I think Perry Orth’s been great for him. Here’s a guy that’s a senior, who really has supported him in a very positive way. I think that says a lot about who Perry Orth is, No. 1. It also says a lot about Brandon’s personality, for someone to want to help him. Sometimes in those situations, a young guy, you don’t want to help him. The guy thinks he knows it all. And Brandon’s not like that. Brandon is very welcoming to listening and gaining advice in those situations. So it’s been a neat situation moving forward, and I’m excited about him continuing to improve.”
Top Freshman Quarterbacks
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
6-foot-2, 209 pounds
History: A four-star prospect in Channelview, Texas, Hurts chose the Tide over Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Florida. He was considered the No. 1 dual threat quarterback in the country by 247Sports.com.
Best Moment: After taking a beating from the Ole Miss defense and falling behind by 21 points, Hurts rallied the Crimson Tide with 158 passing yards and 146 rushing yards on the way to a 48-43 win.
Worst Moment: Hurts made his first appearance as a backup in the first game of the season against Southern Cal, and he fumbled the first snap he took, leading to an Alabama turnover.
Season Passing: 61.5 percent passing, 563 yards, four touchdowns, one interception
Season Rushing: 38 carries for 197 yards
Jacob Eason, Georgia
6-foot-5, 235 pounds
History: A five-star prospect, Eason was the Gatorade National Player of the Year at Lake Stevens High School in Lake Stevens, Wash.
Best Moment: Facing fourth-and-10 and a six-point deficit with less than two minutes to go against Missouri last week, Eason threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Isaiah McKenzie that gave Georgia a 28-27 win and kept the Bulldogs undefeated headed into this week’s matchup with Ole Miss.
Worst Moment: Eason got his first start in the second game of the season against Nicholls State, and it didn’t go well. He was 11 of 20 for 204 yards and threw a fourth-quarter interception that was returned 91 yards for a touchdown. Senior Greyson Lambert replaced Eason and held on for a 26-24 win.
Season Passing: 55.2 percent passing, 643 yards, five touchdowns, two interceptions
Season Rushing: 7 carries for minus-21 yards
Shane Buechele, Texas
6-foot-1, 191 pounds
History: A four-star prospect, Buechele was a two-time all-state selection and named to the 2016 Texas’ Best team by one publication.
Best Moment: Buechele became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for the Longhorns since Bobby Layne in 1946, and led Texas to a 50-47 double-overtime win over No. 10 Notre Dame. He had 313 yards of total offense and was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Week.
Worst Moment: He left last week’s game against Cal after suffering a chest injury on a big hit. Although Buechele returned, the Longhorns suffered their first loss of the season, 50-43, to the Golden Bears.
Season Passing: 66.3 percent passing, 720 yards, seven touchdowns, two interceptions
Rushing: 22 carries, 66 yards
Deondre Francois, Florida State
6-foot-2, 205 pounds
History: A four-star prospect, Francois was considered the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals.com and participated in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game.
Best Moment: In the first game of his career, Francois completed 33 of 52 passes for 419 yards and rushed nine times for 59 yards in a 45-34 win over Ole Miss.
Worst Moment: Like the rest of the Seminoles, Francois fell apart against Louisville last week. He completed 7 of 18 passes for 101 yards and had minus-34 rushing yards in a 63-20 loss.
Season Passing: 63.7 percent passing, 782 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions
Season Rushing: 27 carries for 22 yards
Brandon McIlwain, USC
6-foot, 205 pounds
History: A four-star prospect, McIlwain was the Pennsylvania Gatorade Player of the Year and had more than 10,000 yards of total offense and 124 touchdowns in high school.
Best Moment: In the first start of his career, McIlwain scored a 9-yard touchdown on the first offensive play of the game.
Worst Moment: In the first game of his career against Vanderbilt, McIlwain relieved Perry Orth in the first half, but lost a fumble and dropped another ball after the whistle and didn’t play in the second half.
Season Passing: 52.5 percent passing, 356 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions
Season Rushing: 27 carries for 80 yards