Josh Kendall

Can Jake Bentley carry strong play into bowl game, break records in 2019?

The most talked-about quarterback on South Carolina’s football team of the past week is not the one who will start the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29. Not the one who is second in school history in single-season touchdown passes this year with 27. Not the one who is 47 yards away from throwing for 3,000 this year and the fourth person in school history to surpass 7,000 career yards.

That person is junior Jake Bentley. The quarterback everyone wants to talk about is four-star Ryan Hilinski, who signed with the Gamecocks on Wednesday and will be Bentley’s teammate next season as long as Bentley chooses to return for his senior season.

“All the hype leaves once you get here. He understands that,” Bentley said of Hilinski. “I’m not trying to throw any shade on anyone, but that’s the way it is. When you get here, you have to work, and he understands that. That’s just the type of kid he is. I am excited to get him here and teach him all I can about ball.”

Bentley has learned quite a bit about the subject this year, he said. In the first four games of the year, he averaged 232 yards per game with seven touchdowns and six interceptions. After missing the Missouri game due to a knee injury, he returned to average 289 yards per game with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions in the final seven regular season games. He will lead the Gamecocks (7-5) against Virginia (7-5) in the Belk Bowl in Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

“I think I’m more knowledgeable in the game,” Bentley said. “I think this year I learned a lot about leadership and the mindset that it takes to win games and not getting too high or too low and just staying even keeled and respond to situations the same way each and every time. I think that’s the biggest difference in me, to be able to respond the right way in any situation.”

Bentley has indicated he plans to return for his senior season rather than jumping to the NFL. If he returns, he’ll be within reach of the team’s two biggest career passing marks – yards (Todd Ellis is No. 1 at 9,953; Bentley has 7,167) and touchdowns (Steve Taneyhill is No. 1 with 62; Bentley has 54).

“I feel like the game is slowing down for him,” junior wide receiver Bryan Edwards said. “Toward the end of the year, he really started getting in the groove. You could tell he was sharp. He was making great decisions.”

He is 19-12 as South Carolina’s starter and needs nine more wins to pass Connor Shaw (27 wins) as the all-time winningest quarterback in school history.

The personal achievements are “cool and all, and I think I will probably appreciate it more down the road,” Bentley said. “But our team goals we have not accomplished and that’s what’s most important. That’s kind of what eats at me. I have to do whatever it takes to try to accomplish those. Personal goals will come if you match them up with the team goals. That’s just the mindset that everyone has.”

Belk Bowl info

Who: South Carolina (7-5) vs. Virginia (7-5)

Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina

When: Noon Dec. 29