Jake Bentley took off the red shirt and put on the garnet shirt halfway through the season last year. The timing fortunately coincided with the return of Deebo Samuel and Rico Dowdle from injury, and the three helped lead a dramatic turnaround in the Gamecocks offense. Prior to Jake Bentley getting behind center the Gamecocks averaged 14 points per game; afterwards they averaged 26.6. Some of that may be accounted for by facing weaker defenses overall in the 2nd half of the season, but there was obviously something good happening that allowed SC to nearly double offensive scoring. After a few games a lot of comparisons were being made to the only other true Freshman to see significant time as starting QB for the Gamecocks, Steve Taneyhill. Taneyhill's first season was 25 years prior, which also happened to be USC's inaugural season in the SEC. I thought it would be interesting to look at every Gamecock starting QB's first year of significant contribution since 1992 and see how Bentley stacks up.
In the table below you can see a list of every major starting quarterback for the Gamecocks since 1992 and the stats of their first season of significant action. I've defined significant action as a minimum of 100 passing attempts for the purposes of this analysis. Note that a majority (8 out of 13) of the QBs listed had some degree of playing experience prior to their first year of significant contribution.
Here's some observations:
- Bentley has the best Completion % of any of the 13 QBs on the list, narrowly edging Connor Shaw by connecting on 65.8% of his passes.
- He was 2nd in Passing Yards / Game behind Blake Mitchell, trailing by 12.6 yards, but only trails Mitchell by 2.9 yards in terms of Total Yards / Game.
- Jake is tied for 3rd with Chris Smelley in terms of Totals TDs / Game. Blake Mitchell is 2nd and Connor Shaw is way ahead of everybody.
- In terms of QBR Bentley is 3rd best at 140.0, behind Shaw and then Thompson. Compared to the other guys those three are in a league of their own, with Blake Mitchell fairly far back at 4th with 132.4 (got dinged for a throwing a lot of picks).
- Anyone else surprised at how well Perry Orth stacks up in comparison with the others? He's firmly in the middle of the pack (8th out of 13 in QBR). His stats are right there in between Steve Taneyhill and Anthony Wright. He was a bit older than those two when he got his first major action, but he was also a walk-on and didn't have anywhere close to the same physical tools available.
So, just looking at the general stats shows that Bentley is indeed one of the best 1st-year QBs the Gamecocks have had in the past 25 years, all the more impressive considering he was only a true freshman. Moreover, some guys with more access to time and data than me have taken a look at some advanced stats, and those show that Bentley is the best returning SEC quarterback on long throws and under pressure. The hype appears to be real, and the future bright for the Gamecocks' offense.