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Utah QB Jake Bentley named to Maxwell Award preseason watch list

He has yet to play a single down for Utah, but graduate transfer Jake Bentley is already receiving recognition after being named to the Maxwell Award preseason watch list, given annually to the nation's top quarterback

When Jake Bentley committed to the University of Utah, he had no idea that this is how is his spring and summer with his new team would go.

Rather than spending countless hours with his new teammates, both on the field and in the weight room and film rooms, Bentley has been forced to do much of his preparation by himself due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with offseason practices now underway, Bentley has been making up for lost time and doing all he can to develop some chemistry with his new teammates, particularly his new group of wide receivers.

While not even being named a starter for the 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.

“It’s a little different, but that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here with coach Ludwig 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 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.”

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

*In-game experience
*Strong arm
*Tougher competition

*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,” 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.”

But despite all of those positives, there are some major cons that go against Bentley considering the shutdown of college football activities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because Utah was only able to get three spring practices in, it means that Bentley got very little time to spend with his new teammates and develop some sort of chemistry with his offense. He also is learning a brand new playbook virtually, being unable to meet with the coaches and other quarterbacks to dissect the finer points of offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig's complicated offense.

And lastly, 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 Pac-12 champion Oregon 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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