This first tier of ACC quarterbacks are all juniors and seniors, and they’re all extremely experienced. We’ll call this the Known Commodities Group because, for better or worse, we know what we’re going to get out of these guys. (The parts around them, of course, are often a different story.)
1. Clemson, Tajh Boyd
This is as easy of a pick as Clemson to win the Atlantic. The reigning ACC Player of the Year is back and despite leading the ACC in total offense and pass efficiency, he graded his performance (and his team’s) last year as a ‘B’. After eschewing the NFL Draft for one more year with the Tigers, Boyd wants more out of this season. He’ll be a dark horse Heisman candidate on a team with dark-horse national title potential, so he might just get it.
He lost one of his best receivers from last year in DeAndre “Nuke” Hopkins, but he still has Sammy Watkins, not to mention most of the running game. It would seem that there’s nowhere to go but down for the record-setting signal-caller, but Boyd is never satisfied — and that’s a good thing. He’s poised for a fantastic year yet again.
2. North Carolina, Bryn Renner
He gets a slight edge over Miami’s Stephen Morris due to having an extra year of experience. But that’s not the only thing that puts Renner in second place. He gets better every year — in his first year as a starter, he threw for 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions compared to 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions last year. He completed just over 65 percent of his passes and threw for a school-record 3,356 yards as a junior in his first year in Larry Fedora’s up-tempo offense.
He returns most of his wide receivers and plenty of running backs, and Renner is poised to set even more school records fall this year. He just has to continue to make good decisions and avoid taking sacks, both of which he did very well a year ago.
3. Miami, Stephen Morris
Miami’s 6-foot-2 quarterback is slotted appropriately as the No. 3 returning passer from a year ago after averaging nearly 279 yards per game. Morris led the league in yards per completion (13.7) and he set a single-season record for pass attempts at Miami (421).
He was often asked to do too much to compensate for an inconsistent running game and a shaky offensive line (he was sacked 17 times last year), but this year most of his offensive personnel is returning and should be much improved. Miami won’t need him to do as much, except for maybe complete a slightly higher percentage of his passes (he finished 7th in the ACC in completion percentage) and continue to take care of the ball (he had just seven interceptions last year to 21 touchdowns). Morris is poised to make a huge leap this year as long as his supporting cast backs him up.
4. Virginia Tech, Logan Thomas
Well, if you’re Logan Thomas, things can’t get any worse than last year, right? RIGHT? As a sophomore in 2011, Thomas completed nearly 60 percent of his passes and had 19 touchdowns to ten interceptions, taking just 17 sacks. But last year, Thomas completed just over 51 percent of his passes and threw 18 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.
Just about the only thing that stayed the same was his rushing (469 yards in 2011, 524 in 2012). And just using the eye test, Thomas didn’t look like the same quarterback last year. His decision-making was shaky and he didn’t have reliable playmakers to work with. He may still not, but his size (6-foot-6, 260 pounds) and athleticism — not to mention a new start under a new offensive coordinator — might be enough to make magic happen. Still, he’s going to need help that still doesn’t appear to be on the Hokies roster.
5. Wake Forest, Tanner Price
Wake Forest’s offense had a lot of issues last year, and so did Price. After 20 touchdowns to six interceptions as a sophomore, Price had just 12 touchdowns to seven interceptions a year ago. He also averaged a meager 5.61 yards per attempt, which doesn’t even make the top-10 of last year’s ACC passers. (Those numbers dipped to 4.7 per attempt — on 159 attempts — in Wake’s final four games of the season, three of which were losses.)
Like Thomas, Price was given zero run support and a shaky offensive line. But unlike Thomas, Price is listed at just 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds and has been sacked FIFTY-NINE TIMES over the past two seasons. He has weapons, and should have an improved line and running game in front of him, but he needs to take significantly fewer hits. He’s got the experience and football IQ to be excellent in his senior year if he gets that.
6. Boston College, Chase Rettig
The senior is set to make his 34th career start this year, and he nearly passed his first two year totals combined as a junior with 3,055 yards. He also had a career-high 54.2 percent completion percentage (which is still too low) to go along with 17 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Rettig will play for his fifth offensive coordinator in four years this season, so maybe the fourth time is the charm?
Rettig had a pretty decent year as a junior, all things considered. And by “all things” I mean his offensive line and running game. Remember that Tanner Price stat? Well, Rettig has been sacked 36 times last year and SIXTY TIMES in the last two years. Good grief, Boston College. That just shows how far that offensive line has fallen since Tom O’Brien’s departure. (And yes, sacks are — at least in part — on the quarterback and/or the rest of the protection, but still.)
Next, we have the “Prove It” Group. We’ve seen some of each of them (some more than others), and whether it’s inexperience, coming back from an injury like Maryland’s C.J. Brown or transferring a few times like Pitt’s Tom Savage, there are varying degrees of uncertainty.
7. Georgia Tech, Vad Lee
The sophomore quarterback played so well to end last season that I very nearly slotted him ahead of some of the returning players. Then I looked back at his numbers — while he saw time in 12 games, he still has just completed 48.2 percent of his passes, including four touchdowns to three interceptions. (He does have 96 rushes for 544 yards, though, averaging an insane 5.7 yards per carry.)
Lee looks to have the skillset of the perfect quarterback for that offense: he’s more accurate than his career completion percentage would indicate, and he’s obviously a capable runner. The question around Lee, though, is if he can be that successful for a full season (rather than splitting time with Tevin Washington) without a reliable receiver.
Gut feeling? Yes, he can.
8. Duke, Anthony Boone
The sky is the limit for Duke’s versatile redshirt junior quarterback, and this isn’t necessarily a projection of where he’ll be at the end of this season — more a ranking of where he is right now. Like Lee, his numbers from last year are somewhat misleading: he completed 51.6 percent of his passes for 531 yards and had five touchdowns to two interceptions. He’s more accurate than that, and he’s capable of having a bigger impact on the game than that. But he was seeing spot duty behind starter Sean Renfree, and he never really had a chance to get comfortable.
With most of his best offensive weapons back, Boone has a chance to continue head coach David Cutcliffe’s unprecedented success with quarterbacks. And by that, we mean every Duke quarterback he has coached played or is playing in the NFL. Yep. He’s a magician. Under that kind of tutelage, it’d be more of a surprise if Boone didn’t succeed.
9. Florida State, Jameis Winston
When Florida State played N.C. State in baseball a few months ago, the media went down on the field for postgame interviews. While waiting, the Florida State players headed off to the bus. One of them — a 6-foot-4, 218-pound, broad-shouldered Seminole — was impossible to miss as he walked by confidently.
“There’s Jameis Winston!” someone hissed.
It was hard not to gape at him in awe. When someone says a player looks like an athlete, they basically mean Jameis Winston. And he backed it up in FSU’s spring game, already bringing up talk of past dual sports stars in FSU history like Charlie Ward (who also won the Heisman, by the way). Can he do it as a redshirt freshman? Early indications are absolutely, but that’s a lot of pressure to be on kid, no matter how great he could become.
10. Maryland, C.J. Brown
Brown has not had it easy in his career at Maryland. He threw just one pass (an incompletion) and ran the ball once (for 12 yards) in 2010 before breaking his collarbone in the season-opener. He made it through all of 2011, but that’s the last time he played college football because he tore his ACL in last year’s fall camp. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility in April of this year, so he’s technically a junior now and has two chances to make the best of what has been an unfortunate situation for him so far.
In 2011, he had a pretty good year as a dual-threat quarterback with 842 yards passing and added 574 yards on the ground on just 79 attempts. He says he’s back to 100 percent after the torn ACL, which is good news for Maryland (if true).
11. Pittsburgh, Tom Savage
If Brown hasn’t played in awhile, Savage hasn’t played in ages. In fact, players have probably graduated or left school early in the time since Savage last saw a collegiate snap, which was 2010. He had a great freshman year at Rutgers before getting pulled after a bad start to his sophomore campaign, and he has since transferred twice. Pitt is the second (and final) transfer, but he has sat out for two seasons. He was ranked as a top-five quarterback prospect coming out of high school, and he certainly showed flashes of that talent at Rutgers.
Can he find that again after this much time off? That’s an enormous if, particularly with the mediocre offensive talent around him at Pitt.
And finally, there’s the “Welp!” Group. That seems self-explanatory, but in case it isn’t, I’ll give it a go: at this stage in the game, if you have more than two quarterbacks still in the race, it’s almost never a good thing.
12. N.C. State
It seemed like Pete Thomas, a transfer from Colorado State, was the logical choice to replace Mike Glennon. He passed for 4,269 yards and 18 touchdowns in his first two seasons for the Rams, and the only other known option (Manny Stocker) had thrown just a few career passes.
But in the spring, the competition was tighter than expected and neither looked very good in the spring game. N.C. State has Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett on the roster, and he’s probably the future of the position … but unfortunately, that future won’t start until next year. The Wolfpack also added Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell to the mix, and perhaps out of those three, someone will work in first-year head coach Dave Doeren’s new up-tempo offense. Right now, though, it’s a bit of a mess.
Senior Charley Loeb and sophomore Terrel Hunt were the primary candidates to replace Ryan Nassib, and both of them are still in the mix. If either of them are named the quarterback on Opening Day, though, it means something bad happened with Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen.
Allen arrived on campus just a few weeks ago, and it can be very difficult for someone to get to know his teammates and the offense quickly enough to make a real impact. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops helped Allen find a home at Syracuse, insisting that Allen (a former elite recruit) was capable of being the starter at Oklahoma if not for bad timing. But as it were, he has attempted just 30 career passes in three years. Seamless transitions like the one Russell Wilson had at Wisconsin, though, don’t often come along for final-year transfer quarterbacks.
Head coach Mike London used a two-quarterback system with mixed results last season, rotating Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims. Well, both of those quarterbacks have transferred out of the program and that leaves the Cavaliers searching for quick answers at that position.
Two players who redshirted last year (sophomore David Watford and freshman Greyson Lambert) are the only two real options. Watford played in ten games as a true freshman. But he completed just 30 of his 74 passes for three touchdowns and four interceptions. Lambert was more highly-recruited than Watford, but he has no experience.
London might rotate these two quarterbacks, and if he does it the same way he did it last year (which was seemingly haphazard), the offense could take a step back after showing some positive signs a year ago.