I want to preface this by saying I am not on "Team Orth" or whatever that is. I'm firmly on "Team whoever-wins-games." Having said that, I think it is important for Gamecock Nation to come to terms with the fact that Perry Orth may very well be our best option at quarterback if we're going to get to a bowl game in 2016, whether we like it or not.
Though overshadowed this off season by the bright lights of 4-star signees Brandon McIlwain and Jake Bentley, perhaps no quarterback on the Gamecocks' roster at this particular moment in time is better suited to help South Carolina win games, especially early, in the 2016 season than Perry Orth. Orth, while not always pretty in 2015, was far and away the best option the Gamecocks had under center. And while he didn't light the world on fire numbers wise, he certainly wasn't as dreadful as some would have you believe, either; especially when considering how bad South Carolina was offensively. Orth, in nine real games, threw for 1929 yards, 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions, while completing 55 percent of his passes. Like I said, not great, but not atrocious.
Orth certainly has his flaws. Those flaws were highlighted numerous times last season as the Gamecocks limped to a 3-9 record. He isn't very big. He isn't very fast. He wasn't very accurate at times. He had a tendency to falter late in games. All of these critiques of Orth's game are fair and accurate based off of what we saw in the 2015 campaign.
Here are some other fair and accurate things we need to consider when looking at Perry Orth in the 2015 season:
- It was a revolving door at his position in his first year ever playing. Not exactly ideal for developing confidence.
- With the obvious exception of Pharoh Cooper, he had absolutely no one to throw to.
- He was forced to put up a ton of passes because we couldn't run the ball ever.
- He was the only quarterback on the roster who could throw downfield with any consistency.
- He was the only quarterback on the roster who could move the offense against actual Power-5 competition.
- He won over the guys on the team with his work ethic and leadership.
- He showed guts and heart, which was in short supply.
- He got better as the season went on.
What was often lost in the gut-wrenching, cringe-worthy games of 2015 was the fact that Orth wasn't usually the one to blame. Certainly, when a quarterback throws an untimely interception it is going to stick out in your memory bank and he had his fair share of them. But Orth was not the Gamecock's biggest issue last year - far from it, in fact. He was in a bad situation, with a bad team and bad coaching. When you take into account how dysfunctional the 2015 team surrounding him was, it's amazing his performance wasn't drastically worse. Did Orth miss some throws last year? No doubt, he missed some throws. But he made some throws, too.
Here's the bottom line: Orth is not a superstar, but he is not the terrible, FCS-level quarterback that some make him out to be. He showed some skills, along with guts, toughness and leadership in 2015 and was one of the main guys that held the team together in the moments when it could have come completely unglued. Players respond to him, and there is something to be said for that, especially in years like 2016 where so many aspects of the team are unknown. I believe Orth is no different from any other quarterback: with a better scheme, coaching and talent around him, he will play better. He should have all of those things in 2016.
Certainly, he has to complete a higher percentage of his passes in order to be effective. But a competent running game and more talented receivers might help, too. Orth has shown a willingness to work hard and improve. In a new system, with more talented, albeit very young, receivers, a veteran offensive line, a semi-competent rushing attack and a sure-to-be improved defense, coaches like Will Muschamp and Kurt Roper can work with a guy like Orth. I don't think all the "Perry was separating himself from the other quarterbacks" talk coming out of Muschamp at spring ball was just fluff. Champ doesn't have time to play games in the opportunity he's been given at South Carolina. He's going to play whichever guy gives him the best chance to win games immediately - not in November.
As I said at the start, I'm really not a die-hard Orth fanatic that just wants to see him play for the sake of the story. Heck, if he is the team's vocal leader come September, but McIlwain or Bentley or Nunez pass him on the field, then it isn't going to break my heart to see whoever needs to play, play. I just want to win, and certainly, there are more talented players on the roster at his position. However, I think we need to be very careful about just assuming that the sheer talent alone of a McIlwain or a Bentley will be enough to earn the starting job from day one. Nunez had loads more talent last year when we started him against Missouri on the road. How did that turn out? Could one of the freshmen be the day one starter? Absolutely. They both have the talent and, I believe, the poise necessary to be "the guy" as a true freshman. That being said, on the road in an SEC opener may not be the best place to test the raw talent of our new quarterbacks - one of which should still be in high school. There's a very real possibility that we will need them both by season's end, but in that first game, when the bright lights come on for the first time, I'm taking experience over raw talent if it's close.
Do not be surprised if the guy who gives us the best chance to win when everything is taken into account on September 3rd is not the guy with the most talent, but instead, the guy with the most experience. Do not be surprised if Will Muschamp, in desperate need of a statement win in his first game at the helm of the South Carolina program, turns to the most battle-tested quarterback on the roster. Do not be surprised if Perry Orth is your day one starter.