South Carolina’s coaches must decide soon whether senior Perry Orth, freshman Brandon McIlwain or freshman Jake Bentley will start at quarterback when the Gamecocks open the season Sept. 1 against Vanderbilt.
Head coach Will Muschamp has said he will not announce the decision until game time, but he indicated on his Wednesday night call-in show that he knows which player it will be. The rest of us are left with a guessing game.
“I thought it was a lot easier when Steve (Spurrier) was there because we knew all of them would play,” CBS color commentator Gary Danielson said Thursday.
We took a look at the last 10 quarterbacks who won an SEC championship to see if there were any lessons to be learned to help the Gamecocks make an educated decision. For instance, how important is experience? Very. There is not an underclassman on this list.
Does the starter have to be a threat in the running game? Not if he plays at Alabama. While everyone wants a dual-threat quarterback it seems, mono-threat guys have done just fine with the Crimson Tide at least. Overall, only three players on this list were true threats with their legs.
Is pure pro-potential a factor? No. There’s only one NFL starter on this list and more than half the list didn’t have one season as an NFL quarterback.
Can you play two and win? Only if you’re Les Miles. LSU is the only team in the last 10 years to win the conference title with something resembling a rotation at the position. And, by the way, that team had a defense that included Tyrann Mathieu, Eric Reid, Kevin Minter, Bennie Logan, Mo Claiborne, Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo.
The last 10 champions
A closer look at the quarterbacks on the last 10 SEC title winners:
Jake Coker, senior
Where is he now? Undrafted free agent trying to make Arizona Cardinals
A Florida State transfer, Coker finished the season fourth in the SEC in passing (207.3 yards per game) and had a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 21-8. Coker was not a factor in the running game, finishing the season with 68 yards and one touchdown on the ground.
Blake Sims, senior
Where is he now? Out of football
A three-star high school prospect, Sims unexpectedly won the job as a senior and went on to finish third in the SEC with 249.1 passing yards per game. He had a 28-10 TD-INT ratio and finished the season with a 157.9 rating. Sims was athletic enough to be an occasional running threat and finished with 350 yards and seven TDs on the ground.
Nick Marshall, junior
Where is he now? Defensive back for Jacksonville Jaguars
Marshall was the last dual-threat quarterback to win an SEC title. He finished 10th in the league in passing with 152 yards per game and had a modest 14-6 TD-INT ratio but he was second on the team in rushing with 1,068 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground.
A.J. McCarron, junior
Where is he now? Backup quarterback for Cincinnati Bengals
McCarron is the second-most proficient passer on this list. Although he only finished eighth in the SEC in passing in 2012 (209.5 yards per game), he had a spectacular TD-INT ratio of 30-3 and a passing rating of 175.3. He was no factor in the ground game (4 yards and one TD for the season).
Jarrett Lee and Jordan Jefferson, seniors
Where are they now? Both are out of football
Probably the least-remembered name on this list, Lee was ninth in the SEC in passing with 100.5 yards per game and finished as the team’s leading passer, but Jefferson played extensively, too, starting the SEC Championship Game. Jefferson rushed for 263 yards. Together, they threw 20 TDs and 5 INTs this season and rode a dominant defense to a title.
Cam Newton, junior
Where is he now? Starting quarterback for Carolina Panthers
The only player on this list who is now a starting quarterback in the NFL, Newton was a force of nature in 2010 as South Carolina fans well remember. He was sixth in the SEC in passing (203.9) with a 30-7 TD-INT ratio, and he was also his team’s leading rushesr with 1,473 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.
Greg McElroy, junior
Where is he now? Analyst for SEC Network
McElroy fits the mold of the Tide’s title winners, a steady hand at the wheel. He was ninth in the SEC in passing with 179.1 yards per game and had a 17-4 TD-INT ratio. He rushed for 83 yards and one touchdown during the season and, like Lee and Jefferson, was boosted by a dominant defense.
Tim Tebow, junior
Where is he now? Television analyst trying out for pro baseball
Tebow joins Newton on this list as a true college great. He finished fourth in the SEC in passing with 196.1 yards per game and also was his team’s leading rusher with 673 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished the year with a passer rating of 172.4.
Matt Flynn, senior
Where is he now? Out of football after long career as NFL backup
What is it with Les Miles and two quarterbacks? Flynn got the bulk of the action, finishing sixth in the SEC in passing (200.5) and rushing for 215 yards on the season. He had a 21-11 TD-INT ratio, but backup Ryan Perrilloux was the MVP of the SEC title game after starting in place of the injured Flynn.
Chris Leak, senior
Where is he now? Out of football
Leak, who shared time with Tebow (especially near the goal line), was fourth in the SEC in passing with 210.1 yards per game and had a 23-13 TD-INT ratio. He rushed for 30 yards and three touchdowns for the season.