Editor's note: The 2013 season was an incredible year for quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference. There was a Heisman winner (Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel), the conference's all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns (Georgia's Aaron Murray) and a two-time national champion (Alabama's AJ McCarron). Then there was Auburn's Nick Marshall, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Missouri's James Franklin. Nearly all of those aforementioned signal-callers have departed, however. Still, someone will rise to the occasion to fill those spots, and that's why we're here to take stock of them as we head into the summer, counting them down from 14 to 1. Note that proven performers, even if they were not the unquestioned starter last season, figures heavily into these rankings. We continue with Day 9 of the countdown.
6. South Carolina
This is it for Dylan Thompson. A rising fifth-year senior, the 2014 season is the only year he'll have as the Gamecocks' unquestioned starter at quarterback. The past two years, he's had to sit behind Connor Shaw.
When he's been called upon, however, Thompson has performed admirably. Just check out his bio page on the team's official website. He's 3-0 as a starter, throwing for 300-plus yards in two of those victories. In his career to this point, he's completed 55.0 percent of his attempts for 14 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He's even scored five rushing touchdowns.
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Will those numbers blow anyone away? Of course not.
But only one person's opinion really matters here: Steve Spurrier's. Hard as it may be for some to believe, the "Ol' Ball Coach" said his starting quarterback also doubles as the team's top talent.
"He’s our best player," Spurrier told ESPN.com in March. "I think he’s by far our best player right now."
Yes, on a team that returns one of the best running backs in the country in Mike Davis, Spurrier believes his signal-caller holds the trump card. And who are any of us to argue?
Along with Davis, the Gamecocks return four of their five starting offensive lineman. Bruce Ellington, the team's most dependable pass-catcher last season, gave up his final year of eligibility to head to the NFL, but hope is not lost. The coaching staff is high on the trio of Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones and Shaq Roland. Look out for Shamier Jeffrey as well — he's the younger brother of Alshon Jeffrey, one of the best receivers the Gamecocks have ever had.
Add those components together and it's no surprise that Spurrier told the legendary Tony Barnhart this fall could feature the most potent offense he's fielded since arriving in Columbia in 2005.
It couldn't come at a better time, either. South Carolina's defense has had major personnel losses, especially on the line, where they lost ends Jadeveon Clowney (the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft earlier this month) and Chaz Sutton as well as an All-SEC performer in tackle Kelcy Quarles.
With that in mind, the offense will likely have to prop up the defense in the early portion of next season.
In the center of it all will be Thompson.