The argument has been made, and will be made countless times again this summer, that we are about to enter a “Year of the Quarterback” in the SEC.
The league boasts the returning Heisman Trophy winner in Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, a back-to-back BCS title winner in Alabama’s A.J. McCarron and the soon-to-be leading passer in league history in Georgia’s Aaron Murray.
“It looks like a pretty strong year,” Bulldogs coach Mark Richt said. “Our league is really loaded with them right now.”
After the Big Three, there’s plenty of debate about how the rest rank. There is no question, though, that there is plenty of depth. In what probably is good news for South Carolina, it won’t have to face Manziel or McCarron unless it’s in the SEC championship game.
Here, we take a look at the signal-callers South Carolina will play this fall.
BRYN RENNER, Aug. 29 vs. North Carolina
The season-opener will be a prove-it game for the 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior. He has NFL size and is coming off a season in which he completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. He threw for more than 300 yards in his last four games of 2012, but this will be his first start against an SEC defense.
AARON MURRAY, Sept. 7 at Georgia
The 6-1, 208-pound senior almost certainly will leave Georgia as the SEC’s all-time leading passer, and he’ll be picked in the first half of the NFL Draft. But he’s only got one more chance to beat the Gamecocks. For all of his success, Murray is a combined 44-for-81 for 549 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions in three straight losses to the Gamecocks.
AUSTYN CARTA-SAMUELS, Sept. 14 vs. Vanderbilt
Carta-Samuels, a 6-1, 220-pound senior, has not nailed down the starting job, but he threw for 3,055 yards and 19 touchdowns in two years as a regular starter at Wyoming, and he’s got the most experience. He threw 24 passes last season at Vanderbilt, all against Presbyterian.
BLAKE BORTLES, Sept. 28 at Central Florida
The 6-4, 227-pound junior took off last season, throwing for 3,059 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. A Conference USA second-team selection last year, he will be playing against his first SEC opponent this year. Last season, he completed 25-of-41 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns at Ohio State.
JALEN WHITLOW, Oct. 5 vs. Kentucky
The 6-2, 208-pound sophomore hasn’t officially won the job, but he’s got the most upside of any quarterback on campus. As a freshman, Whitlow was 12-of-23 for 114 yards and two interceptions against the Gamecocks. He also rushed for 53 yards, although he gave 47 of those back in sacks yardage. His athleticism will be an issue.
BRANDON ALLEN, Oct. 12 at Arkansas
Tyler Wilson is no longer a Razorback, but opponents may not be able to tell. Arkansas has traded the 6-3, 220-pound Wilson for 6-3, 212-pound Allen, a redshirt sophomore who was considered one of the country’s top passing prospects three years ago. He was 10-of-18 for 60 yards when he was thrust into the starting job against Alabama last year, but he made big strides this spring.
JUSTIN WORLEY, Oct. 19 at Tennessee
The least stable name on this list, Worley, a 6-4, 213-pound junior from Rock Hill, hasn’t been named the Volunteers’ starter but neither has anyone else. Worley has the experience edge although that doesn’t count for a ton with a first-year coach in Butch Jones. Worley, the Gatorade National Player of the Year at Northwestern High, was 10-of-26 for 105 yards in a spot start against the Gamecocks two years ago. If incoming freshman Josh Dobbs can sneak into the job, his athleticism will be an issue.
JAMES FRANKLIN, Oct. 26 at Missouri
South Carolina has faced James Franklin, but Missouri is hoping that wasn’t the real James Franklin. During the 6-2, 230-pound senior’s fairly miserable 2012 season, he returned from a shoulder injury to start against the Gamecocks but completed only 11 passes. On the year, he threw 10 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Tigers believe he’ll be better this year because he’s healthy (he also suffered a concussion last season).
TYLER RUSSELL, Nov. 2 vs. Mississippi State
No one in the SEC has a larger gap between his name recognition (low) and expectations from his coaching staff (high) than the 6-4, 220-pound senior. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen expects a “huge” season from Russell, who was 11-of-29 with two interceptions and one touchdown in a 14-12 loss to South Carolina two years ago in Starkville, Miss. Last season, he threw 24 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
JEFF DRISKEL, Nov. 16 vs. Florida
The 6-4, 237-pound sophomore was 12-2 as a starter last year but his production numbers were not nearly as impressive. The Gators won with defense and a run game a year ago as evidenced by the fact that Driskel threw for just 93 yards (admittedly that included four touchdown tosses) in a 44-11 win against the Gamecocks last year. Florida coach Will Muschamp said Driskel made tons of progress this spring.
ALEX ROSS, Nov. 23 vs. Coastal Carolina
The Gamecocks just missed facing former South Carolina player Aramis Hillary at quarterback. Instead, they’ll get a 6-1, 200-pound sophomore who redshirted last year after leading one of Georgia’s most powerful high school programs to back-to-back state titles in 2009 and 2010. Ross threw for 3,561 career yards at Buford High School.
TAJH BOYD, Nov. 30 vs. Clemson
Like Murray, this 6-1, 225-pound senior has had a great career but not much luck against South Carolina. In three games against the Gamecocks, Boyd is a combined 32-of-71 for 339 yards, three interceptions and two touchdowns. Also like Murray, he’s 0-3 against South Carolina. A lot of people are expecting a breakout year from Boyd, and he will be plenty motivated to see the Gamecocks.