South Carolina sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley will start his eighth career game on Sept. 2 against North Carolina State, and the excitement about Bentley already has surpassed his experience. That was clear at the annual SEC media days as The State asked media members, as well as SEC players and coaches, about the Opelika (Ala.) High School graduate.
“How do you not feel great? He’s got the arm to do it. He’s got the confidence to do it. He’s got his head on straight. If I was 18 years old, 19 years old and I was an SEC quarterback, my life would be a disaster.”
– Peter Burns, SEC Network host
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“I think Jake Bentley is going to be a stud, coach’s son, knows the game, loves the game.”
– Marcus Spears, SEC Network analyst
“I think South Carolina has the most underrated quarterback in the conference in Jake Bentley. I really liked what I saw. Obviously, he’s a really smart kid, but I think because of Jacob Eason at Georgia and all the hype he had coming in because he’s at Georgia, I think that (Bentley) got kind of lost under the radar.”
– Bruce Feldman, Fox Sports sideline reporter
“I think he’s outstanding, sky’s the limit in terms of his potential. Not unusual for a coach’s kid to be ahead of the curve because they have been around the game, but a great skill set. When you are that young hitting over 60 percent of your passes, you’re unique.”
– Rick Neuheisel, CBS analyst and former coach
“I imagine there were some people who watched them last year who got excited about the fact that they got a quarterback. Not everybody has a quarterback, cough, cough, Florida, and we don’t know about Tennessee.”
– Andy Staples, SI.com national college football writer
Bentley started the final seven games of the season for South Carolina, completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. His 202.8 passing yards per game ranked sixth in the SEC, and he finished with a flourish, throwing for 390 yards and three touchdowns in the Birmingham Bowl loss to South Florida.
“He has a lot of potential. He was supposed to be a senior in high school, but he came into the best conference in college football and performed at a great level. His toughness, his willingness to win at a young age was what stood out to me.”
– Duke Dawson, Florida defensive back
“Looking at him last year compared to seeing him twice in the spring, going to two scrimmages, one being the spring game, he looks in command. I think he’s got the whole tool box at his disposal now as opposed to last year where he was kind of being protected and guarded because he just hadn’t had the reps to be able to use all those tools. I expect a big jump from him, and it’s in large part going to come down to some of the throws down the field that he will connect on.”
– Greg McElroy, SEC Network analyst and former Alabama quarterback
“Clearly in my mind, there was a limitation on how much offense was incorporated (last year). As he grows and his acumen continues to expand and they give him more, then I think he’s going to be able to control things from the line of scrimmage. Once you get up there, and you see, ‘This may not work. I’ve got something else I can go to.’ When you can have that kind of trust in a quarterback, it gets good. When you can manipulate a pattern, change a route so that you can take advantage of the coverage you know you’re seeing, that’s an advantage and all of a sudden you don’t have to get to your third choice to get to a completion, which taxes your protection, you can manipulate so your first choice is going to be open.”
“I really think that (offensive coordinator) Kurt Roper is a terrific quarterback coach. I think that’s a really good fit.”
A QB who can play
Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp will begin his sixth season as a head coach this fall. His supporters have long contended that his career record of 34-28 (20-20 SEC) would be better if he could find a quality quarterback. Muschamp was fired after four seasons at Florida that were marked by inconsistent quarterback play.
“I think you are going to see Will Muschamp actually have a quarterback who can play from Week 1 until Week 12 and be an efficient guy. I would have never thought I would say that a Will Muschamp team would be just fine on offense.”
– Edward Aschoff, ESPN.com college football writer
“The thing at Florida was, OK if this guy ever gets a quarterback, the way his defenses play, they are going to be tough to stop. Well, he never found that quarterback at Florida. He’s found that quarterback now. The fact that they have the quarterback and that part is not an issue for at least two years, I think that’s really exciting for South Carolina because his history tells us the defense is going to be good. You give that defense a complementary offense and that’s a team that maybe not this year but maybe the next couple years can compete for the East title.”
“What I have been most proud of has been his offseason. He continues to take the next step and a lot of it has to do with the understanding of what it takes to be a quarterback and he really understands that.”
Bentley is one of several sophomore standouts in the position in the SEC. Alabama’s Jalen Hurts and Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald earned the top two spots on the media’s preseason SEC team, but there are observers who believe Bentley could end up on one of the league’s postseason teams.
“I think he’s terrific. He’s certainly in the conversation with some of the top tier sophomores. The guys right now that I would put a little ahead of him would be Nick Fitzgerald at Mississippi State just because of the athletic ability and Jalen Hurts, too, considering how much experience he got playing in big games and how well he performed using his legs. I would say right behind those two guys (Arkansas’) Austin Allen would be probably next and then you have a Who’s Who of question marks. Bentley is in that conversation, in that group with (Georgia’a Jacob) Eason, with (Mississippi’s) Shea Patterson, with (Missouri’s) Drew Lock and a few others. It’s good for this league to have this many good quarterbacks. We haven’t seen it in a while. It should be very beneficial for the way the league is perceived nationally moving forward.”
Bentley was one of three players who represented the Gamecocks at media days last week. He was joined by wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst.
“Bentley is just this kid who everybody kind of gravitates toward. He’s kind of a quiet leader, and he’s kind of finding his voice and for him to have already found his voice this early in his playing career, that is huge for South Carolina football and Will Muschamp.”
“When coach named him the starter for that UMass game, it’s like a switch kind of flipped. He was like, ‘All right, this is my team, here we go.’ Just to see the way every day he carries himself, we were excited. He turned our season around last year. I just wish you guys could see the stuff he does behind the scenes every day. The kid watches hours of film. He’s in there trying to lift with me. It’s a fun time.”
Young SEC QBS
The SEC will roll out an impressive group of young quarterbacks:
Proved to be a quick learner as a freshman, winning four of his seven starts
Hurts helped lead Alabama to the national championship game before losing to Clemson
Eason led the Bulldogs to an 8-5 record in both his and coach Kirby Smart’s first season
He was forced into action late in the season after senior Chad Kelly suffered a knee injury
The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder is quick for his size and proved difficult to bring down
He threw for more than 1,200 yards as a freshman at Baylor in 2015 before transferring