Shane Beamer broke a bit from recent South Carolina football tradition.
After a first scrimmage, when questions were asked about quarterbacks, the message usually would be that reps were being shared and every spot was open. This came if there was no clear starter, or a deeply obvious one.
The Gamecocks this spring have …. we’ll call him a likely starter. Beamer was clear that sophomore Luke Doty took most — if not all — of the first-team reps Saturday, and the coach issued a challenge to the other passers on the roster.
“It’s up to those other guys to make this thing a competition,” Beamer said. “Right now, for the most part, Luke’s the guy that our offense looks to as a leader.”
At the moment Doty, with his 2 1/2 games behind center, has the most experience on the SEC level. His top competition, hulking transfer Jason Brown, is new on campus and missed the start of practice with an illness. The other options are freshman Colten Gauthier and third-year sophomore Connor Jordan, a walk-on who earned some praise Saturday from Beamer.
And if Doty is destined to start, it will give the Gamecocks another year heavy on underclassman quarterback play, something that’s become a bit of a theme. And if he can find success and stability in his second, third and fourth seasons, he will buck another recent trend of QBs leaving USC before they exhaust their college eligibility.
Coaches across all sports will use the mantra of “get old, stay old” as a roster-building philosophy. With the lure of the NFL after three years and with the transfer portal, the older aspirations can be hard to pull off.
Still, the Will Muschamp era was in some ways defined by youth at the most key position, despite one player holding it for around half the games.
Gamecocks QB starts by class, 2016-2020
Considering that quarterback is a position players often take time to grow into and one where they often wait their turn, it’s striking how 59% of South Carolina’s quarterback starts come from underclassmen, none of which redshirted.
Steve Spurrier’s final star-crossed season saw two starts from a true freshman, two from a redshirt sophomore and eight from a redshirt junior. Of the five true freshmen who have started at QB for South Carolina since the mid-2000s, four departed as a transfers and all played in the past six seasons. The other one: Luke Doty.
For now, Doty is on track to join that group of underclassmen, likely trying to be the first to reach the end of his eligibility on an upward trajectory in garnet and black.
To that end, it becomes increasingly important for an older player to either push Doty or perhaps take some of the heat at that position for a season. The only man who can do that at the moment is Brown.
The hulking 6-foot-3, 235-pound FCS transfer is far from a sure thing. He’s missed time already. He’s learning a new offense, as is everyone else. He’s adapting from life at a much smaller school, and he has not played ball since the 2019 season. But he was productive that year, slinging it for 3,084 yards and 28 touchdowns, working heavily with current Gamecocks receiver/tight end E.J. Jenkins.
The simple fact is, many of South Carolina’s younger quarterbacks of recent history had a rough go of it. At points, it felt like too much, too soon, too fast — as waves of fan adoration often turned to a certain tone of venomous.
Jake Bentley started his career as the next big thing, and by the end one got the sense the consistent calls for his benching from some corners took its toll.
The solution there might be shorter stints, not being around long enough for the fan base at large to tire of a passer’s particular quirks. Even Connor Shaw went through much of his career with calls for Dylan Thompson.
But for now, it’s Doty’s show. Perhaps Brown will show well enough to take the yoke of expectations off his shoulders for a year, or at least push him to a level where a mostly positive consensus emerges.
Beamer might have thrown off one tradition of that measure of secrecy. But the recent pattern of young passers pushed onto the big stage by circumstance? That might not be so easy to break in the short term.