One of College Football’s Most Underrated Ever
By BJ Bennett
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Using every possible method of evaluation, Shaw is as good as it gets.
Quarterbacks, especially at major conference programs, seldom go overlooked or underappreciated. Whether from fans, the media or opposing defenses, attention is almost always constant. This past season in the SEC was a prime example of the stir star signal callers can cause. With Johnny Manziel, Nick Marshall, A.J. McCarron, Zach Mettenberger and Aaron Murray, the league's clout-coated version of M&M'S, the conference was home to some of the most recognizable names in the game.
Relatively speaking, South Carolina's Connor Shaw was rarely mentioned. His resume, being his school's winningest quarterback ever, never losing a home game in three years as a starter and having the nation's best touchdown-to-interception ratio this past fall, should come with confetti and a glass case. Shaw wasn't a Heisman Trophy contender or an All-American candidate. He is, instead, one of the most underrated quarterbacks in college football history.
Using every possible method of evaluation, Shaw is as good as it gets. When he signed with the Gamecocks out of Georgia's Flowery Branch High School in 2010, South Carolina had won just over 50% of its games in a history that dated all of the way back to 1892. As a starter, Shaw, himself, compiled a record of 27-5, a staggering 84.3% winning rate. Prior to him taking over under center his sophomore season, the Gamecocks had reached double digits in wins, ten in 1984, just once all-time. Shaw led South Carolina to a school-record eleven victories in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
"Connor Shaw, best quarterback in school history," USC head coach Steve Spurrier explained after Shaw's last regular season outing, a 31-17 win over Clemson.
Not counting the Central Florida game where he was injured early, Shaw won four times against ranked opponents his senior year alone. He completed over 70% of his throws, recorded ten touchdown passes, zero interceptions, ran for a pair of scores and even had a touchdown reception in those contests. Against such competition, Shaw compiled a passer rating of 172.12; his total, just against ranked teams, was higher than Andrew Luck's figure from his entire junior season.
At a program that had won just four bowl games ever prior to his arrival, Shaw won three -- all New Year's Day pairings. In triumphs over traditional powers Nebraska, Michigan and Wisconsin, each ranked foes, Shaw was a combined 51-of-68 for 766 yards, with ten total touchdowns and, again, no interceptions. In his final college game, Shaw was named the MVP of the Capital One Bowl.
"I heard about him from afar," Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen acknowledged in his post-game press conference. "He lived up to his billing. His ability to understand pressure, even when we got him tricked, running free hitters at him...he's hard to get on the ground. He makes good decisions, he breaks out of pressures coming from the field. The last one, he scrambled and did a nice job getting down the field to get that first down. It's a veteran quarterback move. You don't wake up one day and decide 'we're going to do this'."
The signature moments have been there from the beginning. Replacing Stephen Garcia in the lineup for his first college start in 2011, Shaw formally introduced himself with 311 passing yards and four touchdowns on the road at Kentucky. As a junior, he missed his first pass attempt of the afternoon at home against Missouri, then promptly completed 20 straight to end the game. A few weeks later he and South Carolina bowled over fifth-ranked Georgia by a score of 35-7.
Shaw, this past season, was called off the bench in a key divisional game at undefeated Missouri. Slowed by a sprained knee, he entered in the third quarter and led the Gamecocks to five consecutive scores by way of 201 yards passing and three touchdowns. Despite his injury, Shaw led fourth quarter drives of 65, 69 and 63 yards, all of which reached paydirt. A two-yard hook-up with Nick Jones with 42 seconds remaining forced overtime; an iconic 15-yard touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington on an improbable 4th-and-goal forced overtime number two. South Carolina later won on a series of kicks.
Though he missed out on the rivalry his junior year, Shaw won both of his games against Clemson. He scored four total touchdowns against the Tigers in 2011 and two total touchdowns last fall. The Gamecocks scored 65 points in Shaw's two meetings with Clemson. In a series long controlled by the Tigers, Shaw has been a leading figure in a recent transformation. After winning just two-of-12 from 1997-2008, South Carolina has now won five straight in the rivalry for the first time ever.
Even if Shaw's presence isn't fully appreciated by the public, his impact will forever be present in the polls. South Carolina finished the season ranked in the national top ten in each of his three years as the starting quarterback in Columbia, setting a new school record each time. This past season, the Gamecocks ended the year ranked fourth -- behind only BCS National Championship Game participants Florida State and Auburn and Rose Bowl champion Michigan State.
While Shaw's name might not immediately come to mind when discussing the top quarterbacks in SEC history, Spurrier is quick offer big-picture validation.
"I've had a lot of good ones, and Connor is right there among the best. No question about it," he nodded.
Looking ahead, most feel that Shaw's professional potential is limited. Projections have him slotted as a 6th-to-7th round pick. Shaw was the top quarterback performer in the 20-yard shuttle, the broad jump and had the fastest unofficial forty time, 4.55, at the NFL Combine. That said, many believe his skill set simply won't translate well to the next level. For a player who received just one SEC offer out of high school, the upcoming draft simply stands as another opportunity to defy the odds.
Gritty and tough, deliberate and fearless, Shaw has been the leader of the best teams in South Carolina history. Some feel he doesn't have the arm, the height or the reach; his backbone, however, is beyond measure.
At six-feet tall with a razor-shaved head, Shaw looks more like an outside linebacker than a star college quarterback. Perhaps that framework makes him who he is.
Shaw never did bring all the accolades to football field. What he did bring was everything else.