Dylan Thompson provides the South Carolina Gamecocks with a luxury that few FBS teams share—a backup quarterback capable of leading his team to victory in big games when called upon.
For most of the 2012 season, Connor Shaw was the primary signal-caller for the Gamecocks.
However, he struggled with nagging shoulder and foot injuries throughout the entire year, often forcing Dylan Thompson step into the spotlight.
Shaw is a great quarterback with many intangible assets. A high school coach's son, he has outstanding leadership, toughness and the ability to keep plays alive with his mobility.
In fact, aside from Johnny Manziel, Shaw had the most rushing attempts (131) and rushing yards (435) among SEC quarterbacks in 2012.
However, he only weighs 207 pounds and plays in perhaps the toughest conference in college football.
While no one can deny Shaw's toughness, any quarterback taking repetitive hits from SEC defenders will inevitably encounter injuries or fatigue.
The veteran quarterback missed the entire Clemson game at the end of the regular season due to his foot injury, but the Gamecocks didn't miss a step behind the sophomore Thompson.
His stats may not indicate it, but Thompson, like Shaw, has deceptive mobility for a quarterback. He may not blow past any defenders, but he's more than capable of escaping pressure and extending the play.
Thompson entered the Clemson game poised beyond his years, completing 23 of 41 passes for 310 yards and three touchdowns on the way to a 27-17 win over the No. 11-ranked Tigers.
In South Carolina's Outback Bowl matchup against Michigan, Thompson continued to show his value to the Gamecocks.
Though Shaw was back in the starting lineup, his foot injury was clearly still bothering him, as he often limped toward the sideline after the play.
Steve Spurrier was able to send Thompson in, cold off of the bench, to spell Shaw and continue to run the offense without missing a beat.
During his time on the field, Thompson picked up where he had left off against Clemson, completing seven of his 10 throws for 117 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning bomb to Bruce Ellington with 11 seconds left in the game.
With Shaw forced to miss 2013 spring practice due to his foot surgery, Thompson's role will be as important as ever during the upcoming season.
Thompson may not get too much national attention, but because of the invaluable depth and poise that he adds to the South Carolina offense behind Connor Shaw, he is arguably the most underrated quarterback in the SEC.