Vanderbilt South Carolina Football (copy)

Jake Bentley has been good the past two seasons, but needs to be great in his junior year. AP/Sean Rayford

COLUMBIA — The experiment was a grand success. When Will Muschamp bet his season on an untested rookie who should have been playing high-school ball halfway through 2017, Jake Bentley was at the forefront of a turnaround that got South Carolina to a bowl game.

A nine-win season followed with Bentley taking every meaningful snap, and ended with him winning Outback Bowl MVP and pledging to place the trophy in the offensive meeting room, since it was a group effort. With almost every key offensive piece returning in 2018, expectations are high.

Fair or unfair, expectations for Bentley are higher. He’s the quarterback, the guy everyone focuses on, and while he’s been good, he’ll have the opportunity to be great in 2018. And he needs to be great.

It’s been said that Bentley prefers the new up-tempo approach from offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon (who called plays at the Outback Bowl), a chance to play fast and keep defenses off their feet. With three sturdy running backs and the best wide receiver group in the SEC (including potential Heisman candidate Deebo Samuel), Bentley has the tools and the talent to further raise the Gamecocks.

It all comes back to him. His numbers were good last year — over 2,700 yards, a 60-plus completion percentage, 18 touchdowns — but he also threw seven interceptions over his last four regular-season games.

He ended with 12 picks for the season.

That total, and his win total, can be much, much better. Bentley has been under center for 13 wins over two seasons and only needs seven more to join elite company (only five USC QBs have ever won 20 or more games). Yet the “big” wins have eluded him thus far.

Bentley is a big-time quarterback. Stepping into his junior season, it’s time to post big-time results.

South Carolina’s Top 10 Most Important Players

10. CB Rashad Fenton

9. PK Parker White/Shane Hynes

8. S Jamyest Williams

7. WR Bryan Edwards

6. DE D.J. Wonnum

5. LG Zack Bailey

4. RB A.J. Turner

3. LB T.J. Brunson

2. QB Jake Bentley

1. Coming Sunday

Follow David Cloninger on Twitter @DCPandC.