USC Gamecocks Football

Muschamp explains why the rise of freshman QBs like Hilinski won’t be slowing down

Watch: Ryan Hilinski celebrates first win as South Carolina quarterback

South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski sings alma mater, celebrates with teams and fans following win over Charleston Southern.
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South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski sings alma mater, celebrates with teams and fans following win over Charleston Southern.

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp has a bit of experience with freshman quarterbacks.

This year, it’s Ryan Hilinski. In his first year on campus, it was Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley. At Florida, he started Treon Harris and Jacoby Brissett.

Traditionally, coaches have shied away from first-year guys. That’s shifting as things are changing in the quarterback world.

“It’s changed because of the number of guys who are leaving early for the NFL draft and the number of guys that are going to transfer,” Muschamp said during his Carolina Calls radio show last week. “So if you don’t become the starter, you transfer and leave, and then all of a sudden you look up and all you’ve got left behind whoever may be your incumbent starter is a true freshman. So that’s why it’s not going to be a trend, it’s going to be what it is.”

Muschamp also has experience losing transfers. McIlwain and Brissett both moved on to other schools. His team has held onto a pair of other recruits who are spending more time at receiver in Dakereon Joyner and Jay Urich.

USC came into this year with a true freshman (Hilinski) behind an incumbent starter (Jake Bentley) in part because Hilinski beat out Joyner for the No. 2 job. Joyner bucked the trend and chose to stay at USC, now filling in as backup with Bentley out for the year.

Across the country, freshmen seem to be asserting themselves in a rather notable way. Beyond the Gamecocks and Hilinski, Boise State, Arizona State, North Carolina, Southern Cal, Auburn and UCF all have true freshmen at the helm.

The rise of successful graduate transfer quarterbacks has also contributed to the fluid nature of QB situations around the country.

Gone are the days of veterans starting with a pack of younger guys in the wings and maybe an older, steady senior to back things up. It means QB rooms are often thinner and lower on players in strong position to contend for the job. When players see a potential window closing, they often move on for a different opportunity.

And that delicate balance makes for more challenges when it comes to restocking with a multi-QB class, something South Carolina has seen both with the Bentley-McIlwian pairing and the Connor Shaw-Dylan Thompson class.

“Guys get disgruntled if they’re not the starter,” Muschamp said. “They go somewhere else. You always said you want to sign a quarterback on scholarship, you want to sign one every year because if you sign two, one of them is going to probably leave, more than likely. So you’ve got to be careful with your numbers as far as that position is concerned.”

South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp speaks Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, after the Gamecocks' win over Charleston Southern.