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Jake Bentley Poised for Grand Finale

By BJ Bennett
SouthernPigskin.com
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Statistics are just the starting point when it comes to Bentley's clout in Columbia.

Having already made his mark, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley is on the verge of making history. With 7,385 passing yards to date, he needs only 2,618 more to join the likes of Aaron Murray, Danny Wuerffel and the Manning brothers and become just the 10th SEC quarterback ever to reach 10,000 career yards; Bentley threw for 3,171 in 2018. The rising senior is already prominently featured on many of the Gamecocks' all-time lists. He, with a schedule for the ages upcoming, is poised to add to those totals, and his legacy, this fall.

Bentley, entering what he hopes will be a grand finale, has helped lead South Carolina to three consecutive postseason berths, earning Outback Bowl MVP honors as a sophomore. With a 19-13 record as a starter, he is merely one win away from becoming the sixth Gamecock signal caller to win 20 games. More than just that milestone appears to be on the horizon. Fresh off one of the most productive seasons South Carolina has ever seen, throwing 27 touchdown passes, Bentley's shadow is only growing entering his final year.

Even with some volatility, Bentley's recent numbers put him in rare company a season ago. So, too, does his experience. For frame of reference, the only returning Power Five quarterbacks who threw for a minimum of 3,170 passing yards and 27 touchdowns last year are: Bentley, Stanford's K.J. Costello, Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Alabama's Tua Tagovailoa. In fact, Bentley, counting yardage compiled while at a P5 school, is the highest level's active passing leader.

What awaits, next, is a remarkable opportunity. Individual accolades aside, Bentley continues to push South Carolina forward in the SEC, his work measured and displayed in team media guides. A number of pundits, including Southern Pigskin's Matt Smith, have ranked the Gamecocks' 2019 schedule as the toughest in the entire country. South Carolina will face the likely top three teams in the pre-season polls, Alabama, Clemson and Georgia, as well as the likes of Appalachian State, Florida and Texas A&M, who combined for 30 wins this past year.

Fearless and fiery in competition, Bentley was both made in, and for, such moments.

In his most-recent regular season contest, for example, Bentley torched rival Clemson for 510 yards and five touchdowns on 32-of-50 passing. Albeit in a losing effort, he set a new program high for passing yards in a single game and did so on the road against the eventual national champions. That total was higher than the number of passing yards the Tigers allowed in their next three outings, the ACC Championship Game, the Cotton Bowl and the National Championship Game, combined.

Such a showcase, quite frankly, has been quite rare. The last two Power Five quarterbacks with a 500-yard, five-touchdown performance against a P5 defense are Bentley and former Heisman Trophy winner and number one overall NFL Draft pick Baker Mayfield; Bentley did it against the national leader in scoring defense. Clemson, for extra context, gave up five touchdowns to Bentley after allowing the same number of total scores the previous six weeks.

Overall, Bentley finished the regular season as one of the hottest quarterbacks in all of college football. Notable next-level potential was on display. For the month of November, Bentley led the nation with 13 touchdown passes, ranked second with 1,451 passing yards, third with a passer rating of 185.45, third with 10.4 yards per pass attempt and tenth with a 69.8% completion percentage. Though the Belk Bowl was an obvious disappointment to finish the year, the stretch run of the season was a showcase for Bentley and the big play.

Statistics are just the starting point when it comes to Bentley's clout in Columbia. A South Carolina captain each of the last two years, and the face of the team for this fall, his impact and influence has been impressively well-rounded. In addition to receiving a number of team honors and earning earning multiple league distinctions academically, Bentley, perhaps most notably, was presented with the 2017-2018 men's SEC Sportsmanship Award.

Bentley hasn't just been good, he's been for the greater good.

For a player who has clearly established himself a leader in the low country, the opportunity of a high-profile senior season should be one he makes the most of. Enrolling at South Carolina following his junior year of high school, then debuting with three straight wins, Bentley has gone on to a career to remember for the Gamecocks. A few years ago, he put in the extra work and jumped early at the chance to compete. Bentley, putting together a resume to which few can compare, has been staying late ever since.

Fittingly, the spotlight is where Bentley will ultimately end his college career. That podium, see recent results against the defending national champions, may fit his profile best.

There is a lot to like with Bentley. There is also more to come. Don't expect Bentley, a pioneer of sorts, to back down from the challenge of naysayers or one of the nation's most difficult slates. Bentley's passing yards and passing touchdowns have increased in each of his three college seasons; going back further, even, a banner sprint to the finish has been in the works for years. Some of the biggest names in all of college football are waiting for Bentley. The record books are as well.

BJ Bennett - B.J. Bennett is SouthernPigskin.com's founder and publisher. He is the co-host of "Three & Out" with Kevin Thomas and Ben Troupe on the "Southern Pigskin Radio Network". Email: bj@espncoastal.com / Twitter: @BJBennettSports