Perry Orth is convinced Brandon McIlwain can handle the job of starting quarterback at South Carolina. Orth just doesn’t want McIlwain to get the job.
“One of us, I think, will step up,” Orth said Monday as South Carolina held its preseason media day. “I’m hoping it’s me.”
McIlwain was the Gamecocks’ de facto starter at the end of spring practice thanks to a broken collarbone suffered by Orth.
“If we had a game, then he would have started at 17 years old, and I fully believe he would have played well,” said Orth, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound senior. “It speaks volumes for him and his parents, raising him to be the kind of guy that he is. We are actually really close for him just getting here in December. He’s a lot older than his age. I can’t believe he just turned 18.”
The Gamecocks begin their first fall camp under coach Will Muschamp with an 8 a.m. practice Tuesday. It will be the first of 29 practices leading up to the Sept. 1 opener against Vanderbilt at 8 p.m. in Nashville, Tenn.
Orth and McIlwain, a 6-foot, 205-pound freshman, are two of four players competing to be South Carolina’s starter. Sophomore Lorenzo Nunez and incoming freshman Jake Bentley are the others, but Nunez and Bentley enter the competition a notch below Orth and McIlwain, who separated themselves during the spring.
“I think me and Brandon will split reps with the ones right now, and going forward whoever separates themselves will probably get more reps than the other,” said Orth, who started eight games last year, throwing for 1,929 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions. “I go first (in practice) just because I’m older and I played last year, but I don’t think that means anything. There will be days Brandon will go first and I will go second.”
Muschamp wasn’t eliminating anyone from the competition Monday.
“At the end of the day, whether we play one or two or three, we are going to do what we need to do to be successful,” he said.
Nor was he shedding much light on when he will pick a starter.
“I don’t have a set date in mind,” he said. “Would you like to name a starter? Sure, but at the end of the day we’re going to do what it takes to win games. Our guys understand that everything is being evaluated, the meeting room, the practice field, every decision.”
The dates to watch on the calendar are Aug. 13, the date of the Gamecocks’ first scrimmage after which Muschamp would like to have the competition narrowed to two, and Aug. 20, the second scrimmage after which the team will begin to firmly shape its depth chart for the Vanderbilt game.
“I’d really prefer they make the decision, not so much on a timeframe, but whenever that person separates themselves, whether that be five days from now or the day before the game,” Orth said. “I just want whoever is going to play to really separate themselves so there’s no gray area.”
McIlwain wasn’t available to speak to the media. (South Carolina’s policy under Muschamp, at least for the moment, is to make all freshmen unavailable to the media during the season.)
“I feel like he has handled (the transition from high school to college in the spring) extremely well,” Muschamp said. “I thought he progressed from Practice 1 to Practice 15 extremely well. I thought he went out in front of 40,000 people in our stadium (in the spring game) and handled it extremely well, and by all reports, he’s had a very good summer.”
Nunez, who started two games last year and threw for 376 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions, will split time between quarterback and wide receiver during preseason camp.
“Lorenzo will still be in that (quarterback) conversation,” Muschamp said. “He’s taken more reps at receiver going into camp, but we still need to have a role for him at quarterback for some of the run game things we want to create depending on who our starter is at quarterback.”
Bentley, who gave up his final year of high school in order to graduate early and join the team and his father Bobby (who is South Carolina’s new running backs coach) this year, is the wildcard in the competition. He was a four-star prospect and would have played in the Under Armour All-American Game had he played his senior year in high school, but he lags far behind the rest of the quarterbacks because he just arrived this summer.
Most of South Carolina’s practices this season will be closed to the practice and the media, meaning the progress of the competition could be hard to follow outside of occasional updates from the coaching staff.
“It’s really up to (offensive coordinator Kurt) Roper,” Nunez said. “We’re all fighting for the position and whatever happens, happens.”