There are a myriad of fantastically intriguing position battles that the Gamecock football team will have between now and the August 28th opener against Texas A&M on the SEC Network.
Some of these battles could be decided in the spring, while others will won and lost during summer practice. Of these, perhaps the most fun to watch will be the arms race at defensive tackle, the frantic scramble at cornerback, and the vitally important, backup quarterback.
There is no question that Dylan Thompson will be the guy next season. The gap in experience between Thompson and everyone else behind him (Orth, Nosovitch, and Mitch) is enormous, and while many coaches approach the quarterback position with an, “it’s anybody’s for the taking” approach, Coach Steve Spurrier continues to reiterate that Dylan will be the starter come August 28.
That being said the no. 2 quarterback will be one of the most important position battle taking place this spring and continuing into the summer.
Two years ago, there was no doubt that Connor Shaw was both the more talented and the more experienced quarterback; the decision was a no-brainer.
Being the clear-cut no. 1 does not anticipate injuries and other mishaps however, and on more than just a few occasions, Dylan Thompson was forced into action for an injured Shaw. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, these two guys seem to have been cut from the same gritty, unflappable, humble cloth. Any concerns about Thompson that may have arisen after an iffy first outing against Vanderbilt were long forgotten by the time he led his team to victory on the road against bitter rival, Clemson.
The icing on the cake of Thompson’s season came in the last minute of the season, when he tossed a beautifully lofted, game-winning touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington against Michigan in the Outback Bowl after being suddenly thrust into the game in the middle of the final drive after Shaw hurt his foot.
All of this to say, even if there is an obvious starter (at any position, but particularly quarterback), the grueling reality of SEC football is that sometimes a team is only as good as its back-up. Without Thompson, who has made a good case for best back-up quarterback in the country with his heroics the last two years, back to back 11-win seasons could have very easily be mediocre 9-3 seasons.
At the beginning of spring practice, Coach Spurrier announced that he would give regularly updated depth charts, as the no. 2 quarterback position would change from practice to practice.
Much to many people’s surprise, after the first official scrimmage, Spurrier announced that it would be walk-on Perry Orth, who would, if the season had started the next day, be backing up Dylan Thompson. The redshirt sophomore from Ponde Verda broke records his senior year of high school and turned down several offers from a few Division I-AA and Division II programs to take a chance walking on to South Carolina.
After completing 6-13 passes in the first scrimmage, he had impressed Spurrier enough to mark him down ahead of the highly-touted Connor Mitch and Brendan Nosovitch.
With only two practices left in the spring however, Spurrier seems to have changed his mind again. Following the most recent scrimmage, Coach Spurrier told various media that Connor Mitch had edged Perry Orth in their latest outings, as Mitch went an impressive 8-10 for 95 yards and a touchdown pass.
Nosovitch too threw the ball well (6-9, TD pass), though Spurrier has praised Nosovitch’s ability to run more than anything. His comments seem to insinuate that Nosovitch, at 6-foot-1, 225, could be used in a similar capacity as Blake Bell of Oklahoma (affectionately called the Bell-dozer) a few years back.
With one more scrimmage left in the spring, the position is wide open, and it seems that Spurrier is cultivating a healthy competitiveness for the spot among the three contenders. While he will likely put one of their names in the no. 2 spot at the end of the spring, new NCAA rules that will allow coaches to spend 2 hours watching film with their players, will provide a unique opportunity for Mitch, Nosovitch, and Orth to get better over the summer and attempt to separate themselves from the pack.
Each of these young men is one play away from getting an opportunity to have their names scrawled into the South Carolina football history books, where they could, along with Dylan Thompson, Erik Kimrey, and many others, be eternalized in Gamecock lore.
Who will be the next Dylan Thompson?
For more, be sure to check out pt I and stay tuned for pt III