USC Gamecocks Football

Roper’s goal for Scarnecchia: Compete to be the starter each day

What McIlwain’s departure means for USC’s QB depth chart

With Brandon McIlwain gone, The State's Josh Kendall discusses what the Gamecocks' quarterback depth chart looks like behind starter Jake Bentley.
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With Brandon McIlwain gone, The State's Josh Kendall discusses what the Gamecocks' quarterback depth chart looks like behind starter Jake Bentley.

Through the 2016 season, South Carolina quarterback Michael Scarnecchia was at every game, home and away, but never dressed.

The former third-stringer and handpicked Steve Spurrier recruit was sidelined with a shoulder injury, so he donned the neon green hat worn by players and coaches who signaled in plays. After a year as part of that machine, he entered spring again behind two other passers, both several years his junior.

The goal for a passer in that sort of position wasn’t so different from anyone else’s.

“My conversations with Mike is to challenge himself to compete every day to try to be the starter,” South Carolina offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “And obviously we feel good about Jake and all that, but Mike should go out every day to play. That should be his focus.

“If he’ll do that, he’ll become a better football player.”

That was before Brandon McIlwain announced he was leaving the football team and transferring from South Carolina. Now, Scarnecchia, as one of two scholarship quarterbacks on campus, is working with the second team and could well end up the No. 2 next season unless signee Jay Urich or a walk-on develops quickly.

Roper and the Gamecocks staff have spoken at times about looking for players who will compete in all situations, and that appeared to be the message, even before the quarterback room shakeup.

The coordinator admitted last season’s quarterback derby, with a new staff trying to figure out what it had, didn’t necessarily put individual players in position to get more work in hopes of developing more.

“You go back to last spring, we had five quarterbacks,” Roper said. “I was talking with coach (Matthew) Symmes about it earlier. We were divvying up reps so much last spring, trying to figure out who was going to be the quarterback that Mike just didn’t get a whole lot. So he’s going to get more reps and his focus needs to be to be productive when he gets on the field.”

With McIlwain leaving, he’ll surely have that chance.

Scarnecchia came to Columbia as a three-star prospect and redshirted his first year. The only action he saw came in 2015, when he led the offense for the final drive of a 45-24 loss to LSU. He completed one pass for 9 yards and had a single run for no gain.

Now he’ll have a new chance. The projected third-stringer is now second, getting more snaps than a year ago. But his goal likely remains the same as when spring started: compete.

“That should be his focus right now in the spring is to really grasp the system better,” Roper said, “so he grows as a quarterback.”

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