South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw finds himself in a unique position in 2013. He's the quarterback of a national championship contender, and nobody is talking about him.
Something tells me being underrated is the way he likes it.
Despite offseason foot surgery, Shaw enters the season as the unquestioned leader of the Gamecocks. He's 17-3 as a starting quarterback and has been at the helm during back-to-back 11-win seasons in Columbia.
"When Connor [Shaw] is healthy, Connor is our starting quarterback," South Carolina quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said in June. "He's earned that right. The record speaks for itself."
Shaw doesn't get the hype that fellow SEC quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, AJ McCarron and Aaron Murray get, but there's no denying how solid he's been. The 6'1", 209-pounder has thrown for 3,627 yards, 32 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and rushed for 1,125 yards and 11 touchdowns during his first three seasons with the program.
What makes Shaw so good?
Shaw is remarkably accurate in the pocket and on the run, which presents major problems to defenders who have to respect his ability to run. He finished last season as the third-most efficient passer in the SEC (158.06), behind McCarron and Murray—who finished in the top two spots in the country in the category.
He trusts his receivers, gets the ball to them at the proper time and doesn't force the issue if the play isn't there.
Against Missouri last season, Shaw completed 20-of-21 passes, including his final 20 in a row.
Sure, it was Missouri, and the Tiger defense didn't exactly strike fear in the hearts of opposing offensive coordinators, but completing 20 straight passes is difficult against air.
Shaw will get leading receiver Bruce Ellington back this season after he caught 40 passes for 600 yards and seven touchdowns a year ago, as well as potential star Shaq Roland—a former Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina in 2011. Toss in the tight end duo of Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams, and Shaw has options that he can rely on underneath and down the field.
Shaw isn't exactly Manziel, but he can look the part at times. He's been a big part of the Gamecocks' rushing attack.
He isn't afraid to go between the tackles, but also possesses the breakaway speed to be a home run threat if he gets out into space.
"Connor is a little more flashy (than fellow quarterback Dylan Thompson)," Mangus said. "He can take it the distance."
His ability to provide stability and consistency on the ground was a big reason why South Carolina's seasons weren't derailed by Marcus Lattimore's injuries in 2011 and '12.
In nine full games without Lattimore, Shaw averaged 59.9 rushing yards per game and scored eight of his 11 career rushing touchdowns.
It seems that Shaw has been unfairly labeled as "fragile" after injuries forced him out of action on two separate occasions last season.
That's not the case.
He's not afraid of contact and has proven ithat he will play through pain. Take a look at the highlights from the South Carolina at Vanderbilt season-opener last year.
Shaw injured his shoulder shortly before halftime, but he came back to rush for 33 yards after the injury, including the 12-yard rush above that carried to the 1-yard line and ended with him landing on that injured shoulder.
He's not Cam Newton and won't run over people, but he doesn't exactly shy away from contact either.
Shaw gets labeled as a dual-threat quarterback, but he can sling it downfield.
The beauty of the Gamecock offense is that he doesn't have to show off that arm all that often, but he showed glimpses of it in South Carolina's 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
He let it fly on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Damiere Byrd for the first score of the game and gave the Gamecocks an early fourth-quarter lead with a 31-yard touchdown pass, throwing across the field over two defenders to Ace Sanders in the back of the end zone.
That second pass (1:35 mark) is as good as it gets for a quarterback.
He isn't asked to open it up all that much—due in large part to the luxury that South Carolina has had over the last few seasons of relying on the run in a variety of ways. But that doesn't mean he can't.
Manziel, Murray and McCarron will dominate headlines this fall and could finish the season sitting in New York City as Heisman finalists. That's too lofty a goal for Shaw.
But don't be blinded by video game statistics and championship rings. Shaw's a winner, and has been throughout his South Carolina career. If he can lead the Gamecocks out of the periphery of the national championship discussion and into the middle of it, perhaps he'll get the respect he's earned.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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