THOM’S TAKE | Jake Bentley’s final season will define his career as a Gamecock

Whether or not you believe it, 2019 will be the last season, barring injury, that Jake Bentley puts that jersey with “CAROLINA” across its chest on.

It seems like yesterday that Bentley walked on the field against UMass. In 2016, the tradition of announcers talking about how Jake was supposed to be in high school began and Bobby Bentley was still running backs coach.

Through three years at Carolina, Bentley has amassed over 50 touchdowns and 7,000 yards passing. After the 2019 season, #19 will most likely hold the career records for wins by a quarterback, passing touchdowns, and passing yards.

He’ll also most likely finish only behind Connor Shaw for career completion percentage and QB rating. For a guy who’s never had a good running game and graduated high school a year early, that’s something to be proud of.

The thing is, all of those stats won’t matter to anyone in about five years if Bentley doesn’t push this team to the absolute limit when it comes to being competitive. This team could go 6-6 in 2019 and no one would bat an eye because of the absolute brutality of the schedule.

But, for Bentley to really be considered a top three quarterback in USC history, he has to push this team to the edge in terms of winning.

In his three seasons at USC, Bentley has complied a career W-L record of 19-13, and he is 10-8 against the SEC. Against Georgia, Florida, and Kentucky, Bentley is 1-6 with a TD-INT ratio of 7-14. Those stats are pretty bad, no one can really argue that. Those are the top teams South Carolina is compositing with every year and Bentley has to perform better in those games.

I’m not calling for Bentley to be benched or dragging his name through the mud, but those stats are those stats. He has to be better for South Carolina to be even close to winning the East.

No one is expecting South Carolina to win the East or even really be in the hunt for the division next year. UGA is as strong as ever, and a lot of people have already written South Carolina off into a third-place battle with Kentucky.

The schedule is brutal. The Gamecocks have to play three out of the top five teams in the country next season. This team could go 6-6 and no one would place that blame on Bentley.

However, Jake Bentley has everything to gain if South Carolina wins nine or more games. He would skyrocket his draft stock with wins against stellar competition and great statistics. Past the wins and stats, he would forever cement his legacy as one of the best to ever throw it around for the Gamecocks. No one would be able to say otherwise.

Heading into 2019, South Carolina will have lost its two best offensive linemen, and its by far top offensive weapon in Deebo Samuel.  No one would blame Bentley is he doesn’t have that great of a year, it is not going to be easy for him.

Let’s say Jake does what no one expects. Let’s say he throws for 30 touchdowns and over 3,000 yards and Carolina ends up 8-4 or 9-3 and he caps off his career with a bowl win over a big time opponent and South Carolina ends the season ranked.

It would be the first time South Carolina finished a season ranked since Connor Shaw walked off the field against Wisconsin in 2014. It would be legendary. You wouldn’t be able that he isn’t a top two quarterback all time.

Then again, South Carolina could easily go 6-6 and make a trip to the Birmingham Bowl and play Houston or some team like that and I don’t think anyone would be that upset. Bentley would probably throw for 25 touchdowns, 2700 yards, and 13 interceptions.

Not a great year, but that’s just what seems like happens to USC. Mediocrity, over and over again.

Jake Bentley has the future of this program sitting in his hands. He’s been a scape goat on bad to mediocre teams and without him, South Carolina wouldn’t be where it is right now.

If Bentley had a running game, he’d probably have a lot better stats but that side of the offense just hasn’t been there for him. It is what it is, the time for excuses is over for Jake.

In 2019, we’re all going to find out what Jake Bentley is made of. He can just be another guy who played good against teams that were as good as USC and got beat by teams that were better, or he could make his legacy take another step.

He could leave the program at South Carolina heading in the right direction, setting the tone for those who follow in his steps. Or, he could leave as just another guy. 2019 is his season, South Carolina will go as he does.

Hopefully, Jake has saved his best for last.  

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