As Ryan Hilinski marched South Carolina down the field in last weekend’s spring game, South Carolina fans saw the future. The early enrollee did not look like someone who was a few months into his college career. He looked like someone who Gamecock fans have been understandably giddy for.

A year ago, it was Dakereon Joyner who South Carolina fans couldn’t wait to see in action during the spring game. And after the spring game, Joyner had people hopeful that he’d have a significant role in the offense even with Jake Bentley tabbed as the starter.

But even just a year after his anticipated arrival, it’s possible that Joyner is the No. 3 choice for the starting quarterback job among South Carolina fans.

Joyner, who redshirted as a freshman, was asked again last week about the idea of a position change after Hilinski looked like the better passer.

“Not a chance,” Joyner said after Saturday’s spring game (via The State). “I would have went anywhere else in the country. I would have went to Alabama or Clemson. You know what I’m saying? I came here to play quarterback, and that’s what I’m going to do. I know my coaches believe in me, and that’s that.”

Wait, is it possible that Joyner is already the odd man out a year removed from that anticipated spring game?

Well, it’s not uncommon at all to see someone a year removed from being the hyped freshman quarterback to being the guy who could be lost in the shuffle. In fact, we could be having the same conversation about Joey Gatewood at Auburn by the end of the weekend.

That got me thinking. Last year, there were 5 SEC early enrollee quarterbacks rated 4-stars or better. A year later, Matt Corral looks like he’ll be the only one who will be in line to earn the starting job in his second season.

Team
2018 4/5-star early enrollee
Ole Miss
Matt Corral
Florida
Emory Jones
South Carolina
Dakereon Joyner
Auburn
Joey Gatewood
Georgia
Justin Fields

That list also didn’t include the likes of Connor Noland, Jalen Mayden and James Foster, all of whom were 4-star quarterbacks who aren’t expected to start this year. If I had to bet on it, my guess is that Corral will be the only one of those 8 blue-chip quarterback recruits from last year who’ll be starting for his team on opening day (Fields will start at Ohio State, but he went there because he couldn’t beat out Jake Fromm).

So while the national narrative from guys like Fromm, Tua Tagovailoa and Trevor Lawrence suggests that college football is heading in a direction with more true freshmen starters than ever, it’s still more the exception than the rule.

In other words, don’t watch your team’s spring game thinking that your early enrollee quarterback is going to become the starter a year later. And in all likelihood, there’s going to be someone newer and more highly touted next year.

That’s the situation that Joyner and Gatewood are in. Hilinski and Bo Nix already are said to be more polished, SEC-ready quarterbacks even though they just arrived on campus a couple months ago.

It seems like we spend more time in spring games talking about the young, promising quarterbacks. I’m guilty of that, too.

And you know what? I get it. At programs that don’t have star quarterbacks or haven’t had one in recent memory, obviously you’re going to get excited when you see a blue-chip recruit impressing immediately.

I wouldn’t be surprised if that happened this weekend with Nix or even if someone like Brian Maurer put on a show at Tennessee’s spring game. And that’s not to say that if Nix or Maurer played well that they wouldn’t have a chance to start a year from now.

But consider this a reminder that spring hype for early enrollee quarterbacks often ignores reality. That is, most of these guys are several years from starting depending on the depth chart around them. And even if they do show some potential, there’s still a chance that someone comes in next year and generates even more buzz than they did.

Becoming a starting quarterback in this league takes time, luck and a whole lot of skill. In this age of everyone having a platform to share their takes, those flashes from early enrollees are magnified by anxious fans.

Just don’t let those spring quarterback takes run amok.