ACC quarterback battles continue as season openers loom

Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt is one of just three returning starters at QB in the ACC that is definitely keeping his job, as of the last week of camp.

College football is not all about quarterback play. But we’ve seen its importance, particularly over the last decade or so. And if it’s the most important position on the field, then the ACC is going to be in for a lot of uncertainty this season.

Jameis Winston (Florida State), Anthony Boone (Duke) and Terrel Hunt (Syracuse) return as starters for their teams, but there are no other returning starters in the ACC who are sure bets to keep their jobs right now.

Even Boone and Winston face uncertainty behind them. At Duke, backup Brandon Connette left the program after the spring, leaving the Blue Devils without the offensive wrinkle he provided. At Florida State, backup Jacob Coker transferred to Alabama or his final year as a graduate student.

As fall camp winds down, though, starting jobs are being won and backups are being established, in some cases, across the ACC. Time is running out, so let’s take a look at where the ACC schools are in terms of their various quarterback situations with game week approaching.

The starter: Tyler Murphy, the graduate student transfer from Florida. Head coach Steve Addazio worked with him when he was on the Gators’ staff, and he knows what Addazio wants to do on offense. He probably won’t be spectacular, but he’ll be just fine.

Others: Redshirt freshman James Walsh was supposed to be the backup, but he left the team at the start of camp. The only other two quarterbacks are true freshmen, Troy Flutie (yes, a member of that Flutie family) and Darius Wade, who’s thought to be the quarterback of the future after Murphy’s one year on campus.

The starter: Cole Stoudt, redshirt senior. He’s patiently waited his turn throughout Tajh Boyd’s illustrious career, and that patience has paid off. He has a talented freshman waiting in the wings behind him, but it will likely be his job unless he plays so poorly that his head coach Dabo Swinney has no choice.

Others: Deshaun Watson, a true freshman, is going to play, according to Swinney. And from the sound of it, he’s not just going to play situationally. The Clemson staff is really high on him, and he’ll play as soon as the season-opener against Georgia. 

The starter: Anthony Boone. The senior, entering his second year as the full-time starter, needs to find some more consistency and take his game up another notch mentally. But he’s as good as it gets in the ACC among quarterbacks not named Jameis Winston. Duke is fortunate to have one of the better starting quarterback situations in the league.

Others: Redshirt sophomore Thomas Sirk is the likeliest candidate to come in as a change-of-pace quarterback, a la Connette. What he can actually do remains a bit of a mystery, as he’s never been seen in a game yet. Redshirt freshman Parker Boehme is likely to be the third-string quarterback. This will be the first time in years that Duke won’t have at least two quarterbacks with previous game experience on the roster.

The starter: Jameis Winston, redshirt sophomore. Heisman Trophy winner. National championship winner. Enough said, really. Difficult to top that — unless he manages to do all of it again, of course.

Others: With last year’s backup Jacob Coker graduating from Florida State and transferring to Alabama for his final year of eligibility, 2013’s third-stringer Sean Maguire (like Winston, a redshirt sophomore) becomes the No. 2. Redshirt freshman John Franklin III moves up from the scout team last year to the third-string, and J.J. Cosentino (a freshman) will likely be the scout team guy. Thus begins anew the circle of life for an FSU quarterback.

The starter: Justin Thomas, redshirt sophomore. He saw action in 10 games last year as Vad Lee’s backup, and he showed some promise, albeit in spurts. This year, Georgia Tech will be getting back to its roots as the option-based team it has always been under Paul Johnson (compared to the diamond formation, pass-happier team they were a year ago). And Thomas will benefit greatly from that with his speed and quickness.

Others: The backup will be Tim Byerly, a redshirt junior transfer from Middle Tennessee State. Georgia Tech is lucky to have him, as he might be just as good as Thomas, or at least close enough. Third string will likely be true freshman Matthew Jordan, who probably won’t play unless it’s an emergency so that he can redshirt.

The starter: Will Gardner, redshirt sophomore. Gardner got plenty of experience last year as Teddy Bridgewater’s backup — well, for a backup quarterback, anyway — in blowouts. By all accounts, he’s impressed his teammates and his new head coach, offensive guru Bobby Petrino. 

Others: Petrino likes Gardner, seemingly, but he also has been effusive in his praise of true freshman Reggie Bonnafon, who’s listed as Gardner’s backup. He likes what he’s seen from Bonnafon so much that Petrino said he will see action in games this year, most likely.

The starter: Jacoby Brissett, a redshirt junior and Florida transfer, is more than ready to take on the role of starting quarterback after sitting out last season due to transfer rules. N.C. State fans, his coaches — heck, even Brissett himself — hold high expectations for what he can do on the field this year. Skeptics point to the fact that Brissett couldn’t beat out Florida’s Jeff Driskell for the starting job. Like most things, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. He’ll still be a significant upgrade at the position for N.C. State from last season.

Others: The backup will be redshirt junior Garrett Leatham, a former walk-on who recently earned a scholarship. He’s worked hard and earned his teammates’ and coaches’ respect that way, though obviously he’s not as talented as the third-stringer, true freshman Jalan McClendon. Having Leatham around is a luxury, though, in that it will allow the Wolfpack to redshirt McClendon (assuming everyone stays healthy this year).

The starter: Chad Voytik, redshirt sophomore and Tom Savage’s backup last year who had a great performance in relief of Savage in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl to end 2013. For some reason, head coach Paul Chryst waited until Thursday to officially name Voytik the starter, even though he was getting almost all of the first-team reps. Either way, he’s the guy, and he has a host of skill-position players returning around him to help ease his transition.

Others: Junior Trey Anderson is going to be Voytik’s backup, and spring enrollee Adam Bertke, a freshman, will be the likely third-stringer. Bertke will probably redshirt unless things go haywire, but Voytik is as safe in his job as any ACC quarterback not named Winston, assuming the decision by Chryst to wait this long to name him starter was meaningless.

The starter: Terrel Hunt, the redshirt junior and returning starter, showed some flashes last year but was inconsistent. If the way he ended last season is any indication — and if the weapons around him, particularly at receiver, get better — he could certainly make an improvement this year.

Others: It’s a two-man race for the backup spot between redshirt freshman Austin Wilson and true freshman A.J. Long. It was thought that redshirt freshman Mitch Kimble would get that job, but he’s evidently fallen behind the other two. Syracuse should have an answer entering next week as to who the backup will be, but the Orange hope it won’t matter. 

The starter: Greyson Lambert, a redshirt sophomore, wrested the job away from returning starter David Watford in the spring. It’s the earliest Virginia has named a starter under Mike London, so maybe that will be a good sign for the Cavaliers. But in his limited action last year, Lambert, a former highly touted recruit, wasn’t that much more impressive than Watford. And he’ll be playing behind a porous offensive line without a ton of weapons around him. Still, at least Virginia has some stability at that position.

Others: Watford, a junior, was offered a position switch by London. He turned it down flatly, and spent the summer continuing to prepare as if he was the starter. And who knows? The way Virginia’s seasons have gone the last few years, he might be. But right now he’ll have to fend off redshirt sophomore Matt Johns just for the right to be the second-string quarterback.

The starter: John Wolford, a true freshman, came to Winston-Salem in the summer and quickly won the job for first-year head coach Dave Clawson. According to Dan Collins of the Winston-Salem Journal, Wolford will be the first true freshman to start a season’s opening game for Wake since 1974. Clawson declined to name a starter after the spring, saying he wanted to give his freshmen a chance to compete for the job. Now we know why.

Others: Converted wide receiver and redshirt junior Kevin Sousa will presumably fight it out for the backup spot with redshirt sophomore Tyler Cameron, who was the No. 2 quarterback last season. Neither was particularly impressive in the spring, but Sousa looked like a more viable option than Cameron in that game alone. Freshman Travis Smith will redshirt, assuming all goes well injury-wise.

There are three* ACC schools remaining who have yet to name a starter at all:

The contenders: Presumed starter Ryan Williams (last year’s backup) tore his ACL in the spring, and he’ll be out at least the first 3-4 weeks or so, if not longer. So right now, it’s between freshman Brad Kaaya and graduate student and two-time transfer Jake Heaps. Kaaya has impressed his teammates with his uncanny poise (for a freshman), while Heaps sat out one of Miami’s recent scrimmages with a dinged-up shoulder. Head coach Al Golden would likely prefer not to start a freshman if he can help it, but Kaaya has been unexpectedly good and both are listed as co-starters.

The contenders: It’s last year’s end-of-year starter Marquise Williams against the one who was supposed to take over after Bryn Renner graduated, redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky. Williams’ excellent play towards the tail end of last season has made this a battle whereas it might not have been one, and UNC head coach Larry Fedora is not going to reveal his choice until the season opener. One would think it will be Williams until he does something to lose the job, but if Trubisky was the plan all along post-Renner, there’s no telling what will happen. By all accounts, the battle is pretty close.

*[Update: Michael Brewer was named the Virginia Tech starting quarterback on Saturday.

“Both of the guys gave great effort and played very well in preseason, making it a very difficult choice,” coach Frank Beamer said in a press release from the school. “It was a very close race and we’re proud of both of them.”

The rest of this entry reads as originally written.]

The contenders: It’s down to two. Texas Tech junior transfer Michael Brewer seems to be the frontrunner for the job, but evidently he still hadn’t done enough as of Friday to officially be named the starter. Brewer left Texas Tech after he couldn’t win the starting job back in 2013. He was vouched for by his former high school coach and current Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who encouraged the Hokies to look at him. Last year’s backup, senior Mark Leal, is the listed as co-starter at quarterback — for now.

Sophomore Brenden Motley had a great spring, but he missed two weeks of camp with a back injury and that essentially put him out of the race. The other two — freshmen Chris Durkin and Andrew Ford — will be fourth and fifth, most likely, in some order. Hard to imagine that one or both don’t redshirt, but one can never predict what the season will bring.