Ranking every South Carolina starting quarterback in the 21st century
It’s been an up-and-down 2 decades for South Carolina football. It’s never easy to be seemingly stuck in the middle tier of the SEC, but the Gamecocks have benefited from standout quarterback play at times along the way.
We ranked every starting QB since the turn of the century. To make this list, a signal-caller had to throw at least 100 passes in a South Carolina uniform.
13. Brandon McIlwain, 2016
The decision to leave Columbia and football behind after just 1 season paid off when McIlwain signed with the New York Mets this summer. Passed up on the depth chart by Jake Bentley, McIlwain completed 62-of-118 passes (52.5%) for 600 yards, 2 touchdowns and 1 interception in 2016. He arrived at South Carolina already a better baseball prospect.
12. Ryan Hilinski, 2019-
Hilinski could end his career a lot higher on this list if he flashes the potential he did as a true freshman. After taking over Jake Bentley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the first game of the 2019 season, Hilinski completed 58% of his passes and threw for over 2,300 yards last year. He didn’t win the starting job this year, but his story is far from over.
11. Dondrial Pinkins, 2000-04
Pinkins was one of those guys who seems to stick around long after you would have thought he’d exhausted his eligibility. Over the course of 5 seasons, he appeared in 33 games and threw for 3,459 yards with 18 TDs.
10. Corey Jenkins, 2001-02
Another Gamecocks QB who made good on his professional baseball aspirations. A 2-time All-American at Garden City (Kansas) Community College, Jenkins was drafted by both the Red Sox and Miami Dolphins after 2 seasons under coach Lou Holtz. He’s now the Gamecocks’ assistant strength and conditioning coach.
9. Chris Smelley, 2006-08
What is it with Gamecocks quarterbacks moving on to play baseball? After throwing for 1,922 yards his sophomore season, Smelley transferred to Alabama to serve as the Crimson Tide’s catcher.
8. Perry Orth, 2013-16
Like McIlwain, Orth was usurped in 2016 by Bentley. His junior season, Orth passed for over 1,900 yards, but the Gamecocks went 3-9. He finished with 12 career TD passes.
7. Syvelle Newton, 2003-06
Despite bouncing between receiver and quarterback during his time in Columbia, Newton managed to finish his career with 2,400 yards passing and 20 touchdown throws. He went on to brief stints in the Canadian Football League and the Arena Football League.
6. Phil Petty, 1998-01
No relation to Tom, but Petty did run down a dream. In 2000, Phil Petty helped orchestrate the best single-season turnaround in NCAA history, leading South Carolina to an 8-4 finish a year after it went 0-11.
5. Blake Mitchell, 2004-07
Mitchell traversed the transition from Holtz to Steve Spurrier. He accumulated almost 6,000 yards passing but was prone to interceptions at times, finishing his career with 30 picks to 38 touchdown tosses.
4. Stephen Garcia, 2008-11
When he was on, Garcia was as electric as they come, and sheer talent would have him closer to No. 2 in these rankings. He’ll always have the Alabama upset in 2010, but his poor decision making proved costly and eventually led to his departure midway through what should have been a promising senior season. Garcia finished with 7,597 career yards, more than anybody this century and still 3rd all-time in program history.
3. Dylan Thompson, 2011-14
Thompson will largely be remembered as the guy who backed up Connor Shaw. But that’s not doing the Boiling Springs, S.C. native justice. Thompson finished his career with almost 5,400 yards passing, 40 touchdowns and a 140.9 QB rating and led the SEC in several categories his senior season.
2. Jake Bentley, 2016-19
It hasn’t been a fun year for Bentley, who suffered a season-ending foot injury in the first game of 2019, then transferred to Utah of the Pac-12 — you know, the conference that just last week decided to resume playing football this fall. Before his run of bad luck, Bentley provided his share of memorable moments and compiled more than 7,527 yards passing along the way — 4th in program history. He was on track to set several SC career passing marks before his injury.
1. Connor Shaw, 2010-13
Shaw’s raw career metrics — 6,000 yards passing, 56 touchdowns to 16 interceptions, a 155.9 passer rating — are great, but they don’t fully capture what he meant to Spurrier’s program. With Shaw at the helm, South Carolina had its best 3-year stretch ever, winning 11 games each season from 2011-13.