This week was monumental for the South Carolina Gamecocks and Will Muschamp and his staff signed the highest rated quarterback in school history, Alabama gunslinger Jake Bentley. Everywhere he has gone, Bentley has drawn rave reviews from scouts, coaches, and anyone who has seen him throw the ball have been more than impressed with his ability. Bentley, the son of Gamecocks RB coach Bobby Bentley, ended up landing 21 college offers and was named one of the top 10 quarterbacks in the class of 2017 by MaxPreps.
On the other side is Brandon McIlwain, another four-star recruit out of high school coming out of Newtown, Pennsylvania. McIlwain, also extremely high-rated coming out of high school, scored four star honors, and being named one of Gatorade's State High School Players of the year. McIlwain is one of several quarterbacks competing for the starting job this season.
With Bentley pledged and McIlwain enrolled and in camp already, the Gamecocks have a pair of players who have drawn rave reviews and who will more than likely be competing for a starting job as early as 2017: Bentley, a pro-style QB who has the ability to run but looks to make throws in the pocket, and McIlwain, a hardcore mobile quarterback who will run more times than not.
The Case For McIlwain
You'll see in the highlight film that McIlwain works a lot of out of the read option, either deciding to tuck it and run, or make a throw downfield. In high school, the offense was built around McIlwain's ability to run, and his coaches capitalized on that. McIlwain also has good accuracy and power on his throws. He's able to make throws deep downfield and is able to fit the ball into tight spaces in between corners and safeties. The mix of power and accuracy will serve him well in the SEC, as he will be tested against some of the best defenses in the nation.
But McIlwain separates himself from the crowd with his running ability. McIlwain has elite speed: not average, run-of-the-mill speed, but game-breaking, cornerback-burning, downfield-running speed that you see from mostly running backs. He is able to outrun defenders with ease, and once he's in the open field, good luck catching him. This is the type of speed you would like to see in a solid running back, let alone your starting QB. With his running ability as his X-factor, McIlwain has already made a convincing case to be the Gamecocks' starting quarterback for the 2016 season, especially with Will Muschamp's confession that he is looking for a mobile QB to run his offense.
The Case For Bentley
Then there's Jake Bentley, who has all the making of a next level elite SEC quarterback. Bentley has been pegged as the next big thing by many scouts, received a ton of offers and has seen extensive media coverage. Bentley posses an absolute insane cannon of an arm, he can fire the deep ball 50 to 60 yards downfield with ease, and it's on target. Around the 0:10 mark of the highlight film, Bentley unleashes an absolute rocket long ball, 50 yards downfield right into the receivers hands. In the arm strength department, Bentley has an edge for sure on McIlwain.
Bentley is also no slouch with his legs, showing the ability to create plays on the run. While he can take off and run if needed, Bentley's greatest strength is his ability to extend plays with his legs and has an innate ability to "dance around" or shuffle his feet while in the pocket to extend the play. This is a skill that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is best known for, being able to keep plays alive. The ability to evade defenders while still looking downfield is something very few quarterbacks posses, but it's a skill Bentley appears to have mastered. On the same note, Bentley also also has a great ability to finish his throws even when he's under pressure or being hit by a defender.
Ultimately, scheme fit is going to be the one thing that will set apart these two quarterbacks. They both have their own impressive physical tools and Bentley will carry much more hype than McIlwain going into the 2017 season. Muschamp has shown interest in having an athletic and mobile quarterback run his offense, but does he want a full-on scrambler like McIlwain who will more than likely run the read-option? Or is he looking for a pro-style QB who can also do things with his legs at the same time?
The other key issue in this battle is readiness. Will Bentley be able to step right onto campus and take the starting job as a true-freshman? That's a huge task and one that very few quarterbacks have done successfully. For every true freshman QB who has played a high level from day one, there's at least five others who have fizzled upon entry. It's also an issue of pressure, starting as a true freshman, especially when you have the level of hype that Jake Bentley has, is a ton of pressure regardless of how poised he may be. Being thrown to the wolves of the SEC when you're barely out of high school is a daunting task, could he handle the spotlight so young? McIlwain would only be a year older than Bentley in 2017; maybe he catches some playing time in 2016, but all signs point to him being a fairly new product next season.
Overall, Bentley will have an edge due to his status as an elite quarterback, but if McIlwain impresses enough people this year, and has a strong camp next season, the starting job could be his to lose. As much fun as speculating who the 2017 quarterback of the South Carolina Gamecocks is, we still have to wait for Bentley to officially sign with the Gamecocks before the real competition begins. But, once Bentley signs on the dotted line, the battle to start under center in Columbia begins.