South Carolina football: Steve Smith QB criticism may be warranted

Legendary Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith made headlines during a preseason matchup last weekend with his bashing of former South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley.

Bentley was unsuspectingly caught in the line of fire with Smith’s comments. The NFLer turned broadcaster was focusing on one of Bentley’s former teammates, Shi Smith, but his praise of the Gamecock wideout quickly turned into an all out attack on the signal caller’s abilities.

Bentley transferred out of the South Carolina program following his senior season to join Smith’s alma mater Utah in 2020. He played five games with the Utes in a COVID ravaged campaign, with the team going 2-3 with Bentley under center. Smith was unhappy with the limited performance, and he let it be known on national television during that preseason broadcast by ending his rant in saying football just wasn’t “his sport.”

Now, the criticism obviously formed from Smith’s displeasure with how his former college program fared last season, but the overall point that he was trying to make was that Shi Smith’s development was slowed due to poor quarterback play in Columbia. And that’s an issue that the Gamecocks have been dealing with for two decades now.

South Carolina football struggles to put QBs in the NFL

While Bentley did have a stellar junior season, throwing for 3,171 yards and 27 touchdowns, he was often inconsistent on the field throughout his tenure. Take that junior year, for example. He began the season by throwing six interceptions in his first three SEC games, but then went on to throw19 touchdowns over his next six outings. That included a 500-yard performance in Death Valley against Clemson. He’d then end the year with a shutout loss to Virginia in the Belk Bowl.

The inconsistency eventually led to a transfer as it was evident that Ryan Hilinksi was going to be the starter of the future – so we thought. Hilinski transferred out of the program the two seasons later after being replaced by Collin Hill. Hill is off the roster, too, after just one unproductive season.

The fact of the matter is that the Gamecocks haven’t put a quarterback in the NFL, at least not one with professional success, since Anthony Wright, and he was only a long-time reserve.

After Wright’s departure from the program, South Carolina has been led by Phil Petty, Corey Jenkins, Dondrial Pinkins, Blake Mitchell, Syvelle Newton, Stephen Garcia, Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson, Lorenzo Nunez, Perry Orth, Brandon McIlwain, Bentley, Hilinski, and Hill. Shaw and Jenkins were the only two to really get a chance in the NFL, and Jenkins’ success came as a safety/linebacker.

Recruiting hasn’t been the issue, as a number of these players were highly regarded entering college. Will Muschamp signed three four-star signal callers in his five seasons in Columbia, but his teams finished 99th or worse in scoring four times. Garcia and Nunez were also highly touted. Many had fantastic collegiate careers, but it didn’t translate to the next level.

It’s really a head scratcher as to why no South Carolina quarterback has stuck in the league. The Gamecocks have a slew of pass catchers to see NFL success, both at the wideout and tight end positions. Offensive linemen and running backs have seen some success, too. But for whatever reason, the passers can’t seem to figure it out.

So, going back to Steve Smith’s harsh criticism of Bentley and the overall quarterback play at South Carolina, he was certainly unprofessional in bashing an amateur athlete on a major stage, but maybe the concerns were warranted.