COLUMBIA — The handshakes and gifted season tickets were great to see, the increased social media presence an attempt to get people excited again after six wins over the past two seasons. It’s been a welcomed change, to get some feel-good back into South Carolina football.
But once spring practice began, it was time for business. And that always leads to the discussions about the quarterback situation.
"I think it’s always good when you can (have the starter named early). Certainly as you head into summer workouts and the team knows that OK, this guy is our starting quarterback and to empower him with that leadership ability,” coach Shane Beamer said. “As you get within about a week-and-a-half of the first game, you better have a starting quarterback named so you can divvy up the reps properly and things like that.”
The Gamecocks haven't settled on a starting quarterback yet, which is understandable for a team that has gone through five QBs and four starters in the past two seasons. Jake Bentley started the 2019 season-opener, then was lost for the season after fracturing his foot. That put freshman Ryan Hilinski into the seat and he stayed there the rest of the year, although Dakereon Joyner spelled him at times (such as the last half of an upset win at Georgia).
Yet Hilinski couldn’t beat out transfer Collin Hill for the starting gig last year after Bentley transferred. When a change needed to be made, it was freshman Luke Doty who got the call, leading to Hilinski transferring.
Hill is gone as well, declining a sixth year of eligibility to see if he can entice a professional team to give him a shot. That leaves Doty, the only USC QB who has thrown a pass in an SEC game, along with FCS transfer Jason Brown, true freshman Colten Gauthier and walk-on Connor Jordan.
Doty, the former Myrtle Beach High star, took the first snap in the first spring practice because he was the only one who had done it before. Beamer said not to draw any conclusions from that.
Yet after the first four spring practices, Doty still was No. 1. And from what offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Marcus Satterfield said, that seems to be the norm now and going forward.
Not that Satterfield wasn’t complimentary of Gauthier, Brown and Jordan. He was.
But Gauthier’s a freshman, Jordan’s a valuable guy but it’s all been behind the scenes and Brown, while athletic and talented, is transitioning from a spread offense to a pro-style offense. Again, it’s only been a week of spring ball but it seems to be Doty’s job to lose.
“I knew he was an above-the-line passer, but I didn’t know how natural he was. I’m really excited to continue to work on his fundamentals and creating the best him we could possibly do,” Satterfield said. “But I’m really excited about how he’s throwing the ball right now. Obviously, he’s athletic and can run and make the plays with his legs, but it’s really good to put him in situations where he’s got to use his arm.”
Doty “debuted” last year as a wide receiver who would sometimes run routes and sometimes get behind center for a running play. He wound up rushing 41 times for a net 91 yards (149 without sack yardage subtracted).
When he started the final two games, he completed 43 of 71 passes for 405 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He showed an amazing aptitude for finding tight end Nick Muse, who returns this season and is the only dependable receiver the Gamecocks currently have.
Beamer noted that the starting quarterback in spring isn't always the No. 1 guy when the season begins, relaying a story from his days at Oklahoma.
In 2018, head coach Lincoln Riley waited until around 10 days before the season-opener before facing quarterback Austin Kendall and telling him that the other guy beat him out. The other guy was Kyler Murray, who went on to throw for 4,300 yards, rush for 1,000 yards and be responsible for 54 touchdowns. And he won the Heisman Trophy.
Beamer's point is simple: It doesn’t matter when USC names the starting quarterback as long as it finds the right quarterback.