Utah QB Jake Bentley named to Johnny Unitas preseason award watch list

Ryan Kostecka

It's been quite a two-year stretch for Jake Bentley.

First Bentley led South Carolina to a 6-6 record in the brutal SEC East during the 2018 season, throwing for 2,953 yards and 29 total touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

Then the following season in 2019, Bentley had his year cut short following the first game of the year when he suffered a mid-foot injury that required surgery and forced him to redshirt.

Looking for a change of scenery for one final run as a senior, Bentley transferred to Utah where he was looking to replace former quarterback Tyler Huntley, now with the Baltimore Ravens.

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“It’s a little different, but that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here. With coach (Andy) Ludwig and how prolific his offenses have been in the past and just the preparation for the next level … I wanted something different,” Bentley said. “I’ve been in the Southeast my whole life. I just kind of wanted to come experience a different culture, a different environment. I told coach (Kyle) Whittingham when I came here that I wanted to grow as a person and as a football player. ... And I really thought Utah was the best place for that.”

But before he can even throw the ball in a college football game again, Bentley is being forced to wait until the spring (hopefully) to finish out his collegiate career. The Pac-12 recently announced that it was cancelling the fall sports season with hopes of resuming in the spring of 2021.

While not even being named a starter for the (hopefully) upcoming season, let alone playing a single snap for the Utes, Bentley is already receiving some preseason recognition. He was recently named to Maxwell Award preseason watch list, given annually to the nation's top quarterback — and has now been named to the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm preseason award watch list, given annually to the nation's outstanding senior or fourth-year quarterback in college football.

Here's how Bentley's game breaks down and what his perceived strengths and weaknesses are heading into the 2020 season.

PROS
*In-game experience
*Dual-threat
*Strong arm
*Tougher competition

CONS
*Injury prone
*Chemistry w/ new teammates
*Understanding of new playbook
*Stop-gap role

The first thing that jumps off at you when checking out Bentley is his experience, particularly in the SEC. He went 19-14 in his career with the Gamecocks, including a 10-7 showing in the SEC, widely considered the most difficult conference in college football.

He led South Carolina to the Belk Bowl in 2018 and the Outback Bowl in 2017, even taking home MVP honors during the Outback Bowl. He's one of the most prolific passers in Gamecock history, ranking in the top-5 in career completion percentage (.625), career pass completions (626), passing touchdowns (55), career passing yards (7,527) and career total offense (7,670).

He also shows up in big games, throwing for 510 yards and five touchdowns in a 56-35 loss to Clemson during the 2018 season, the same year that the Tigers won the national championship. The 35 points scored by South Carolina were the most the Tigers gave up all season long.

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Bentley can make all the throws needed as he plays with very good poise. He's got a very solid frame at 6-foot-4, 220-pounds and is considered a dual threat passer, often extending plays and drives by picking up yards when the pocket breaks down.

“Jake is a big addition for us. In today’s world with the (transfer) portal and the way things are changing, the quarterback room can change dramatically from year to year,” Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham said when Bentley signed. “That’s the position that undergoes the most change. We’re excited to have Jake in the room. He’s got a big arm, more of a pro-style guy.”

Negatively, he's coming off a foot injury suffered last season that required surgery and caused him to miss the rest of the season. Not playing for almost a full calendar year, and with very little practice time as well, usually doesn't make for a good recipe of success.

You have to feel for the situation Bentley finds himself in right now because of the pandemic. If life was business as usual, Bentley probably would've been the starting quarterback when the Utes kick off against Washington State to begin the season.

Bentley said Ludwig made it extremely clear, as did a lot of the other coaches, that nothing would be handed to him. He was only promised the opportunity to come in, compete and hopefully earn the job.

Only time will tell how things work out for Utah and Bentley, but until then he's doing everything he can to rise against the odds and emerge as the starting quarterback whenever Utah begins the 2020 season.

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Twitter — @UtahUtes_SI and Ryan Kostecka at @Ryan_Kostecka

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