COLUMBIA — He couldn’t leave just yet.
“When you look at it, our team goals, we haven’t accomplished. That’s what we start off every meeting with, to beat the East and win the state,” South Carolina junior quarterback Jake Bentley said in a video he posted on Friday. “I got to do whatever it takes to try and accomplish those.”
The video faded out with the words, “One Last Ride.” Bentley will return to the Gamecocks in 2019 with a chance to set every major passing record in school history, and most importantly, win the big game.
The biggest criticism of Bentley is he hasn’t been able to win crucial games, and while that’s not nearly his fault, he’s the quarterback and is saddled with the win or loss. His most notable victory was in 2016 over a Tennessee team that was ranked 18th but had lost its last two games. Bentley guided a fourth-quarter comeback to top Michigan a year ago in the Outback Bowl but the Wolverines were unranked and finished 8-5.
Bentley will have plenty of opportunities to end that streak next season. Alabama, Georgia and Clemson are on the schedule, as well as Kentucky and Texas A&M, which have each won five straight against the Gamecocks. The game against the Tigers will be in Columbia and give Bentley a chance to walk away with a win on his Senior Night.
Bentley is 0-3 against Clemson but torched the Tigers’ defense for 510 yards this season. No quarterback on either side has ever gone 0-4 in the rivalry.
The junior is well within distance of placing his name alongside those of Todd Ellis, Steve Taneyhill and Connor Shaw. Bentley is in range of setting records in starts, wins, completions, attempts, completion percentage, passing yards and passing touchdowns.
With top backup Michael Scarnecchia also graduating, the Gamecocks’ QB depth chart was thin in experience. With Bentley returning, rising redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner, rising redshirt sophomore Jay Urich and true freshman Ryan Hilinski will have a veteran to guide them as one prepares to take over in 2020.
Bentley was the second of USC’s three juniors who requested NFL paperwork to decide to come back to school, following offensive lineman Donell Stanley. The Gamecocks are still waiting on the decision of receiver Bryan Edwards, who like Bentley, could set numerous records should he return.