South Carolina football will have its first spring practice of the 2016 season today, and with a new head coach, a new staff, and new players at key positions, there are a lot of unknowns about this team. However, at least one thing will be familiar-- a QB competition.
Five QB's will have the opportunity to compete for the starting job. Will Muschamp has set up spring practice so each signal caller will get the most reps possible. However, out of the five QB's, three have a realistic shot at winning the starting job.
Perry Orth, redshirt senior
The early front runner looks to be Perry Orth. The fifth year senior is South Carolina's most proven signal caller, and was without a doubt the Gamecocks' most effective QB in 2015. He threw for 1,929 yards, 12 TDs and 9 INTs on 54.8% completions. Those numbers aren't great, and his play was inconsistent. But, Orth looked much better in an up tempo offense and is by far the most experienced QB on the roster.
Up Tempo Offense: New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper isn't Chip Kelly, but he likes to play at a faster tempo, and has said that his offense at South Carolina will be similar the offenses he ran at Duke. Duke was 34th, 25th, 41st, and 27th in offensive plays per game respectively during Kurt Roper's tenure. This bodes well for Perry Orth. When the Gamecocks fell behind, they often went into a semi hurry up/two-minute drill type offense. Orth was able to get into a nice rhythm in these situations. He strung together some excellent drives, and gave South Carolina a chance for comeback wins over Kentucky (24-7 at halftime), Tennessee (17-3 at halftime), and Clemson (21-3 at beginning of 3rd quarter). He went 13/20, for 179 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the second half vs Kentucky, 16/29 for 178 yards, three TDs, and no picks in the second half vs Tennessee, and 9/15 for 177 yards, three scores and zero interceptions in the second half vs Clemson.
Experience: Orth's biggest advantage is his experience, as 2016 will be Orth's fifth year as a Gamecock. He spent four years learning and developing under Spurrier which, should help him help get a jump on Kurt Roper's new offense. Orth started eight games in 2015 and has a big edge in live-game experience. Playing QB is about making quick, confident decisions, and the lessons learned from playing real games are invaluable.
Consensus: The starting QB position looks like it is Perry Orth's to lose. He has by far the most experience, and he's shown can make on time, on target throws when he finds his rhythm. And, if no one separates themselves before September 1st he should get the nod because the coaches know he won't let his nerves get the best of him come game time.
Connor Mitch, redshirt junior
If Perry Orth is option 1a, Connor Mitch is option 1b. Mitch was a prolific high school quarterback, and showed all the physical traits desirable in a pocket passer. He chose South Carolina over offers from powerhouses such as Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Florida State, and Notre Dame. He looked to be the QB of the future and won the starting job over Perry Orth last year. Unfortunately, his season was ended by a nasty hip injury half way through his second start. Although, Mitch was underwhelming his limited action last year, he should benefit the most from the new offensive staff. He has all the tools and should be an excellent fit in Kurt Roper's system.
Physical Tools: At 6'3" and 218 pounds, Mitch has the ability to stand tall in the pocket and read the defense. He also has the frame to help weather the beating of an SEC season. Mitch didn't show it in his limited game action, but he has a quick, fluid release, sturdy mechanics, and a very strong accurate arm. He is also a decent athlete and can buy time in the pocket, or hurt an over aggressive defense on the read option.
System Fit: Connor Mitch's size and skill set most closely fit the mold of a Kurt Roper QB. Roper has indicated that South Carolina will run an up-tempo spread offense. But, Roper's most successful offenses have been run by bigger, pass first QB's. (Eli Manning, 6'4", 218 pounds, Thad Lewis, 6'2", 200 pounds, and Sean Renfree 6'5", 225 pounds). Kurt Roper is looking for "the best passer we can find who can move his feet." Connor Mitch definitely fits that description.
Consensus: Connor Mitch might be the most physically gifted QB on the roster, but he didn't play to his potential under Spurrier. However, Roper is a known QB whisperer, and his system should compliment Mitch's abilities. If Roper can get Mitch's play to reflect his talent, he will be the starting QB come September 1st.
Brandon McIlwain, freshman
The true freshman has Gamecock nation buzzing, and rightfully so. Brandon McIlwain is the highest ranked member of South Carolina's 2016 class. The four star prospect won Pennsylvania's Gatorade player of the year, and 247 Sports has him ranked as the second-best dual threat QB in the nation. The early enrollee has been on campus since January, splitting time between baseball and winter workouts. He's done all the right things so far and has earned praise from Muschamp for his work ethic. Winning the starting QB position as a true freshman over a redshirt junior and redshirt senior is a tall order, but McIlwain has the talent and drive to do it.
Athleticism: McIlwain is definitely the most athletic of the contenders. He would be considered a first round pick if he choose to go pro in baseball (don't worry, football is his first priority). He ran a 4.67 40 yard dash in high school and plays even quicker on tape. He averaged more than 100 rushing yards a game his senior year, but he also uses his athleticism to buy time for his receivers to get open. He does a good job of keeping his eyes downfield and is excellent at throwing on the run from either side. Having a QB that is a threat on designed runs and scrambles would make Kurt Roper's spread option a nightmare to defend.
Throwing Ability: McIlwain is a great athlete, but he's an ever better quarterback. He possesses excellent arm strength, has a quick release, and throws a tight spiral. He proved he could throw with the best QB's in the country at the Elite 11 Quarterback competition, and was named semi finals MVP.
Intangibles: For all of McIlwain's physical talent, his intangibles are his biggest asset. Scouts rave about his leadership, work ethic, savvy and competitiveness. He's a gamer and just finds a way to make plays. He's drawn comparisons to Connor Shaw and is the kind of person teammates and coaches love having under center.
Consensus: Muschamp is looking for a QB "who can make explosive plays." McIlwain has a unique combination of athleticism, throwing ability, and play making savvy to make a lot of explosive plays at the college level. As a true freshman, he has a lot of learning and adjusting to do. But, he enrolled early, and with a new coaching staff, he's had just as much time as anyone else to learn the playbook. He's got plenty of talent, and his work ethic and competitive drive, will have him ready to compete.
Lorenzo Nunez, Sophomore: Nunez is a dynamic athlete, with a great frame, and excellent arm strength. But, unless he's made incredible strides over the offseason, he's just not ready to play quarterback. He's not comfortable in the pocket and if his first option isn't open, his instinct is to run. He struggled against one of the nation's worst teams in UCF and threw three picks against Missouri. Nunez should definitely see the field this year, but it will most likely be in a wildcat type role.
Michael Scarnecchia, redshirt sophomore: Scarnecchia was a three star recruit coming out of high school and has had a quiet three years at South Carolina. At 6'3 ", 217 pounds, he has good size, but hasn't done anything to show he's capable of winning the starting job.