Steven Bench comes from a small town in southwest Georgia called Bainbridge (closest major city is Tallahassee, FL). He was a star quarterback as a Cairo HS Syrupmaker in 2011 and was recruited to Penn State by the post-Paterno/Sandusky regime, playing his freshman year there in 2012. His only notable experience at Penn State was a 45-yard drive that he put together when he was sent in to relieve an injured Matt McGloin against Virginia. Before half time, as the Nittany Lions were trying to get close enough for a field goal, Bench ran for five yards, handed off a few times, threw some dangerous passes, and ran for 15 yards on a draw play before time expired as the field goal unit was setting up. He did also have a really nice throw to the end zone that should have been caught for a touchdown.
In the Spring of 2013, Bench transferred to USF, probably thinking he would wait it out behind Matt Floyd and Bobby Eveld. On the contrary, early in the third game of the season, Willie Taggart called his number and sent him onto the field to turn things around. Eight complete passes, a touchdown and an interception later, the Bulls had lost 28-10. Still, his 128 yard effort wasn’t bad for a sophomore quarterback with virtually no college playing experience. Taggart saw potential and started him the next week against No. 15 Miami. Duke Johnson and the Hurricanes destroyed USF 49-21, but despite being instructed to hand the ball off to Marcus Shaw on most plays, Bench threw a respectable 13 of 27 for 189 yards.
Bench appeared a few weeks later just before half time in the Louisville game. He managed to throw four complete passes for 68 yards and a pick six. It was after that interception that Taggart decided to burn Mike White’s redshirt in the smoldering dumpster fire that USF football had become.
The trouble with Bench in 2014 was that he played like a decent backup quarterback, not like a guy who can give you a complete game. He played almost every snap of the Maryland game, in which he threw 14 of 36 for 162 yards, rushed 15 yards for a touchdown and had an interception. Not horrible, but in a game where the defense forced six turnovers it was pretty regrettable that Bench and the offense couldn’t get more than 17 points.
Against Cincinnati, Mike White played terribly (remember the fumbled snaps and interceptions?) so Bench was put in at the beginning of the second half and gave the best performance of his career. He threw 9 of 14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns in the second half. Extrapolate that to a whole game and you’ve got about 300 yards and four touchdowns (you know, the type of stats that win football games). Taggart liked what he saw, so he started Bench the next week against Houston and the Bulls got a whopping three points.
Bench lost the starting job the next week to Quinton Flowers, who played most of that game where Mike White heroically came in to save the day, notching USF’s fourth and final win of the year. Bench was seen again in the fourth quarter of the Memphis game when he drove 57 yards for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter of last year’s shutout by UCF, Bench took over for White and drove the ball 73 yards to the UCF one yard line. Then he got sacked, Kennard Swanson got called for unnecessary roughness, and the ball was suddenly on the 22. Bench’s incomplete passes to Andre Davis were the last snaps taken by a USF quarterback in 2014.
One thing we know about Steven Bench is that he is a team player. Although he has competed regularly with Mike White for the starting job, the two quarterbacks are good friends. Bench always seems willing to step in when needed, and never appears irritated at other players. After taking over in the Cincinnati game he said with sincerity, "It was my job to be ready for something like that. I will tell Mike to wake up tomorrow and get to work. Don't let it beat you twice."
Another thing we know about Steven Bench is that he is a big fan of Batman, as evidenced by this:
I'm in a batman onesie eating Christmas cookies that Momma made— Steven Bench (@Steven_Bench) December 22, 2014
Bench transferred to USF because he wasn’t about to beat Christian Hackenberg or Tyler Ferguson for the starting job. Things haven’t worked out much better for him in Tampa, but this year he may turn out to be Taggart’s best bet behind center. As a senior, he will be one of the most experienced players on the practice fields this morning, and he has quietly been getting better over the last two seasons. In 2013, Bench was a 40.6% passer; in 2014 he improved to 49%. Rarely playing an entire game, he threw for about 160 yards every four quarters in 2013 and improved to about 200 yards every four quarters in 2014. In 2013 he was responsible for two touchdowns and three interceptions; in 2014 he was responsible for four touchdowns and two interceptions. I wouldn’t describe Bench as a dual threat or anything, but he is more mobile than Mike White. At 6-2/215 he can be fairly elusive, especially on designed runs. With the "change" to a "spread" offense this year, Bench may be able to gain an edge on White due to his running ability.
A coach playing the long game may give up on Bench and just go with one of the younger guys to groom him for future success with more playing time. But Willie Taggart is not playing the long game; he’s playing the win-more-games-now-or-lose-my-job game. Hopefully this year he will find some stability at the position and not start throwing quarterbacks at the wall to see if one will stick. Hopefully this spring one of them will emerge as the clear best man for the job. Steven Bench may turn out to be that man, or at least he may turn out to be Taggart’s best option. And this time around he may not be half bad.