USC Gamecocks Football

Jake Bentley’s 2019 season is over. What this might mean for South Carolina

Injured USC QB Jake Bentley cheers on his teammates

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley supports his teammates ahead of the game against Charleston Southern on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, at Williams-Brice Stadium.
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South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley supports his teammates ahead of the game against Charleston Southern on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Moments after announcing Jake Bentley’s 2019 season will end with foot surgery following a Game 1 injury, South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp was not in a mood to discuss any larger ramifications.

“That’s not even on the table,” Muschamp said. “Right now, this is a very difficult time. When I know something more, I’ll let you guys know.”

Although Muschamp won’t speak on it, the situation puts Bentley in a precarious spot.

True freshman Ryan Hilinski projects to be the starter the rest of the way, provided he too stays healthy. His debut was strong, hitting 24 of 30 passes for 282 yards, but a good first game is no guarantee things will fully work out.

So Bentley faces a few possible options:

1. Return in 2020 and compete for the USC starting job

Some of this might rest on how Hilinski does. If he shines, the idea of dislodging him might be a daunting one. If he struggles, Bentley would still be dealing with a pretty talented player who has some experience under his belt.

Bentley would also have to deal with freshman Luke Doty, a promising prospect in his own right, and third-year passer Dakereon Joyner, who seems to still have aims on the starting job down the road.

Bentley’s senior season started with one of the worst days of his career, both in terms of production and losing to a team USC likely couldn’t afford to. Bentley had been considered the team’s best option all through the offseason, but a return would still set up an interesting dynamic.

2. Leave USC as a graduate transfer

This option is all the rage, especially for players looking for a new start. There are extremely high-profile jobs set to open at Alabama and Oklahoma. There are also ones a level down at places like Oregon and Michigan.

Beyond them, Purdue, Michigan State, Washington State, Virginia Tech, Duke and others are also in line to have opening. Then come the possible mid-major options, including Louisiana Tech, North Texas and Shawn Elliott’s Georgia State squad.

Former Muschamp QB Jeff Driskel left Florida for Louisiana Tech, where he threw for more than 4,000 yards. He ended up carving out a career in the NFL that’s at four years and counting.

Jake’s father Bobby is also on staff at USC and had an offer to coach at Auburn last offseason. It’s also worth noting, the class Bentley came in with will also mostly depart after this season.

3. Get well and begin training for a possible professional career

Bentley said he returned to Columbia to finish business when it came to the Clemson rivalry and chasing a division title. But after deferring his NFL plans, he could decide the time is now right to pursue it.

He already had plans to depart school at the end of the season and head off for pre-draft training.

He might have to overcome some questions about consistency the start of this season didn’t answer. Bentley threw 14 interceptions last year and had two in the opener to bring his career total to 32. That first game saw him throw for only 142 yards on a day where he was constantly under pressure and could never seem to get his feet under him in the pocket.

At times in his career, popular draft rankings have floated him as a potential high-round draft pick. CBS Sports doesn’t have him among their top 100 players or top eight quarterbacks for 2020.

Late last season, ESPN’s Todd McShay said he saw Bentley as a potential second- or third-rounder but thought he should come back for another season to grow and mature. That was before a three-game stretch where Bentley struggled for the final 10 quarters.

“Physically, I don’t think he has any elite qualities,” McShay said. “But I don’t see any weaknesses in his game and I think there’s potential to be developed into a good quarterback.

“I think he has a chance to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. If not, a good backup.”

How this impacts South Carolina’s QB room and roster

If Bentley returns for 2020, it would leave the team with three full-time scholarship QBs, one part-time QB/part-time receiver in Dakereon Joyner and Jay Urich, who was also splitting time but did not take snaps in Saturday’s blowout while a walk-on did.

A Bentley return, if he could win and hold onto the job, would create a situation where Hilinski might have to ponder a second-year redshirt, a rarity.

If not, things would go as expected before the season, with one quirk. Hilinski would battle Doty and possibly Joyner for the job. If Doty ends up the backup and redshirts, he’d have two years after Hilinski would run out of eligibility (instead of one if both redshirted).

But as Muschamp even admitted last week, QB rooms are fluid. Transfers are common, and projecting can be folly. The Bentley news certainly adds one more variable on that front though.