David Cloninger

To Bentley or not to Bentley? That is the question

South Carolina needs something to jump-start its NCAA-worst scoring offense, and there’s really only one switch that can be made. That’s been the hot topic in practice this week and will be throughout next week’s practice before the UMass game.

Is it time for Jake Bentley?

“No, but all three quarterbacks repped today,” answered coach Will Muschamp when asked if Bentley had been taking first-team reps this week. “And we rotated all three in there. We haven’t gotten enough production at the position. Multiple issues offensively, but we need to get better at that position, so we repped all three guys.”

This started as a “why is Bentley even here right now” column before the whispers of Bentley practicing began to be heard. At this point, I feel confident in saying USC is strongly considering whether to keep Bentley’s redshirt intact or to send him on out there.

The fans, naturally, are fully behind it. It’s clear the offense isn’t firing behind Perry Orth or Brandon McIlwain, so why wouldn’t you go with Bentley? They’re also thinking of 1992, when some kid named Taneyhill took over at midseason and won five of six starts to start a record-setting career.

I can see that, in that the 1992 team and this team have solid defenses. But that 1992 team had Brandon Bennett and Rob DeBoer to take a lot of the heat off Taneyhill. This team has no semblance of a running game (although Rico Dowdle certainly has impressed in his scant playing time).

That brings it around to the ultimate question, and the answer is USC can’t win.

Start Bentley and see that the absence of a running game, inexperienced wideouts and the jump from high school to college still results in losing. Muschamp and staff are blamed for yanking a redshirt six games into a lost season.

Or start Bentley, watch him win and perhaps get the Gamecocks to a bowl game. Muschamp and staff are asked, “Why didn’t you start him sooner? USC could have won the East!”

No coach is ever going to simply surrender a season, so it makes sense to give Bentley a try. Maybe Orth/McIlwain could turn it around, but the results so far don’t indicate they would. And Bentley doesn’t care about the redshirt – he wants to play, no matter if it’s the seventh game or the last game.

Yet if switching quarterbacks isn’t the answer – and there’s plenty more wrong with this offense than who’s taking the snaps – Muschamp gets lumped in with a lot of coaches who didn’t take the player’s best interests to heart. That’s a very tricky line to walk, especially when the kid wants to play, but who could ever forget Derek Dooley’s immensely foolish handling of then-freshman Justin Worley?

Bentley passed up his final year of high school to be here this season, and when it looked like he was going to redshirt, I questioned his choice. Yes, he’s older than McIlwain by six months and, like we all were at that age, is bulletproof. Of course he’s ready to play college football because he’s 18 and invincible.

It simply didn’t make sense to me, when he was coming in with another true freshman. Even if he redshirted, he’d only be one year behind McIlwain in terms of playing; if he’d have stayed in high school, he could have had two years behind and perhaps the QB picture would be a lot clearer.

But he’s here, and has progressed from likely redshirt to squarely on the fence. USC’s offense is going nowhere and couldn’t play much worse with a new quarterback. On the other hand, it’s the difference between 48 future games and 42 future games.

Is it really time for Jake Bentley?

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