THIBODAUX, La. -- While several new starting quarterbacks in the SEC are truly getting their first chance to run a college offense this season, South Carolina's Dylan Thompson doesn't quite fit that description.
The senior, indeed, is taking over for Connor Shaw and for the first time appears to be entrenched as the full-time starter. But Thompson has thrown more than 200 career passes under the SEC coach who might be least afraid to make a change at quarterback in Steve Spurrier. As a result, Thompson enters this season with far more confidence than most first-year starters.
"It's been a blessing to be able to be in some big games, some big moments. What's valuable is road experience," Thompson said at the Manning Passing Academy, where he's among dozens of college quarterbacks working as camp counselors. "I've been fortunate to get Clemson on the road, UCF (on the road) last year. The Missouri (road win) was a big teaching point for me."
Thompson's final college season will include road tests at defending SEC champion Auburn, Florida, and a rematch with Clemson in Death Valley. Thompson will not only be able to rely on his experience in those games, but a dangerous cast of offensive support, as well.
The Gamecocks will protect him with what could be the top offensive line in the SEC, led on the left side by NFL draft prospects Corey Robinson at tackle and guard A.J. Cann. Running back Mike Davis is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate, wide receiver Damiere Byrd is one of the SEC's fastest receiving threats, and versatile athlete Pharoh Cooper will keep defenses guessing with a skill set that allows him to function as a rusher, receiver and even a passer on occasion. He's also a return specialist.
"Pharoh can do anything," Thompson said. "We just want to get him the ball in space, in the slot, wherever. He caught on quick at receiver and made some big plays (last year). This summer he's been asking questions and giving signals that he wants to get the chemistry down."
Thompson's place at the Gamecocks' table has been set, and if Davis keeps him out of third-and-long situations with another season of nearly 1,200 yards, the Gamecocks' passing attack shouldn't be any worse for Shaw's absence.