On March 24, Jake Bentley brightened South Carolina’s future. On April 6, he brightened the Gamecocks' present.
When the four-star quarterback issued a verbal commitment to South Carolina on the first date—over reported scholarship offers from Alabama, LSU and Stanford, among other programs—it appeared he would serve as the lynchpin of new coach Will Muschamp’s first full recruiting class. The Gamecocks had landed the type of prospect who could attract other elite players to join him. This was, without question, a huge recruiting victory for Muschamp's 2017 class.
Sixteen days later, Bentley announced that he would enroll this summer in a reclassification from 2017 to ’16. He had effectively changed his status from Gamecocks commit to Gamecocks quarterback.
The significance of this shift is clear on the surface—a really talented prospect getting to school a year earlier than initially expected—but it cannot be comprehended in full without assessing South Carolina’s quarterback situation. The Gamecocks are coming off a season in which they ranked ninth in the SEC in passing yards per attempt and 12th in scoring offense. Meanwhile, two of the quarterbacks who started games last year—rising senior Perry Orth and sophomore Lorenzo Nunez—dealt with injuries during the spring. That leaves junior Connor Mitch, who started two games; Brandon McIlwain, an early enrollee rated the No. 12 QB in the class of 2016 by Scout.com; and sophomore Michael Scarnecchia.
McIlwain impressed in the spring game earlier this month, completing 19 of 26 passes for 169 yards with two touchdowns. His ability to pick up yards with his legs could make him an excellent fit for co-offensive coordinator (and playcaller) Kurt Roper’s up-tempo offense. “His decision-making was really good, and he’s continued to improve from practice one until now,” Muschamp said of McIlwain after the game. “He’ll make some tremendous strides in the off-season.”
That said, it would be a mistake to completely discount Bentley in South Carolina’s quarterback competition. Bentley is turning 19 in November, according to The State, and there’s precedent for his decision to skip his senior year of high school: USC QB John David Booty bypassed his final season at Evangel Christian (La.) Academy to join the Trojans in 2003, though he appeared in only five games while serving as a reserve option behind future first-round draft pick Matt Leinart.
The son of current South Carolina running backs coach Bobby Bentley, Jake Bentley possesses favorable size (6’4”, 220 pounds) and good arm strength. But what separates him from other high school quarterbacks, Scout.com National Recruiting Analyst Chad Simmons says, are his intangibles. “The knowledge of the game—just the way he slows things down, the way he processes the game, the way he sees the field,” Simmons says of Bentley, whom Scout.com rates the No. 9 passer in the class of 2017.
There's a level of irony to South Carolina’s apparent logjam at quarterback given that one of Muschamp’s biggest problems at his last head coaching stop, Florida, was a lack of consistency at the position. In his final season in Gainesville, the Gators ranked second-to-last in the SEC in passer rating and third-to-last in completion percentage. Yet in his first year at South Carolina, Muschamp will pick among two promising freshmen and multiple options with starting experience.
“They said I had a fair chance to start,” Bentley said earlier this month, according to The Post and Courier in Charleston. “I want to start just like every other quarterback in that room wants to start. I’m going to work my tail off when I get there, and competition is going to make all the quarterbacks better and is going to make the whole team better.”
One byproduct of Bentley’s move is the opening of a spot for another quarterback in South Carolina’s 2017 class. While it’s still early in this recruiting cycle, the Gamecocks appeared to be in good position to land Cedar Grove (Ga.) High three-star signal-caller Jelani Woods. He was in Columbia for South Carolina’s spring game and had identified a top three list of South Carolina, Michigan and Oklahoma State. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks, Woods committed to the Cowboys last Friday.
Social media item of the week
Note to prospective Virginia Tech recruits: Be careful how you comport yourself around the janitors at your high school. This tweet was sent out last Friday by Hokies wide receivers coach Zohn Burden.
Three things to know
• Arizona added another high-level prospect to its 2017 recruiting class. The Wildcats secured a verbal commitment last week from Nathan Tilford, a four-star athlete who attends Colony High in Ontario, Calif. Tilford picked Arizona over reported scholarship offers from Michigan, USC and UCLA, among other programs. Though Tilford has the potential to play several positions at the next level, he projects as a running back with the Wildcats—and he could become a centerpiece of their rushing attack following the eventual departure of rising junior Nick Wilson. “At running back, he's a physical player who can run between the tackles and is very tough to bring down in the open field,” Tilford’s Scout.com analysis notes. He joins fellow four-star athlete Greg Johnson of Augustus Hawkins (Calif.) High in an Arizona recruiting class that also features coach Rich Rodriguez’s son, quarterback Rhett Rodriguez.
• One of the nation’s top pass rushers is headed to UCLA. Four-star Jaelen Phillips announced in a message posted to his Twitter account last week that he has verbally committed to the Bruins. The Redlands East Valley (Calif.) High standout is highly regarded for his athleticism and pass-rushing ability, and Scout.com analyst Greg Biggins wrote that Phillips “has as much upside as any defensive end in the country.” Phillips’s commitment also represents a big win for UCLA over several Pac-12 programs, including Stanford, USC and Washington, as well as Notre Dame. The 6’5”, 230-pound rising senior, whom Scout.com rates the No. 6 DE in the country, is the latest addition to a recruiting class that already includes another top-level prospect at the same position: Cathedral (Calif.) High four-star defensive end Hunter Echols.
• Freshman quarterback Jacob Eason shined during Georgia’s G-Day scrimmage on Saturday and more than 90,000 fans showed up to see new coach Kirby Smart’s team in action, but another promising development for the Bulldogs’ future took place off the field. Georgia secured a verbal commitment from William Poole, the No. 12 cornerback in the class of 2017, according to Scout.com. The Hapeville Charter (Ga.) High standout chose the Bulldogs over reported scholarship offers from Florida, Alabama and Ohio State, among other programs. He joins a Georgia recruiting class that already includes another elite defensive back, Liberty County (Ga.) High four-star Richard LeCounte. Poole also is the fifth member of the Scout 300 who’s currently committed to the Bulldogs, joining four-star quarterback Jake Fromm, LeCounte and four-star outside linebackers Jaden Hunter and Breon Dixon.