ACC tops in TDs, at least in the passing game

Of the last 38 quarterbacks to hear their name called at the NFL

Draft, none have hailed from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Texas A&M has had more than that.

Heck, West Texas A&M has had more than that.

Times are changing, it seems, in the ACC – which may have more

depth at quarterback than ever before, or at least since the advent

of the 12-team league.

So far, the ACC leads the nation with 102 touchdown throws, and

if that trend holds it’ll mark the first time in this

megaconference era that the league has set the pace when it comes

to finding end zones through the air. The Big 12 has seen its

quarterbacks throw for 96 touchdowns so far, the Big 10 has thrown

for 93, and the Southeastern Conference has connected on 91 TD

throws.

”I said it before the season started, there are a lot of good

quarterbacks in this league – and there are,” Virginia Tech coach

Frank Beamer said Wednesday. ”We like ours, but there’s guys

certainly playing at a very high level for other teams, too.”

North Carolina State’s Russell Wilson is second in the country

with 14 touchdown passes. Miami’s Jacory Harris and Duke’s Sean

Renfree each had thrown for 10 scores already, while Florida

State’s Christian Ponder and Virginia Tech’s Tyrod Taylor have

thrown for eight apiece.

In all, 21 players from the ACC have at least one touchdown

pass, and 64 players have caught balls in the end zone.

”There’s a lot of good quarterbacks and a lot of good

receivers,” Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. ”And that’s why

we’re seeing a lot of good production.”

The ACC is on pace to throw for nearly 300 touchdowns by

season’s end, after not having more than 226 in any of the past

five years.

And Miami coach Randy Shannon – a defense guy – saw this

coming.

”A few years ago, we had all these quarterbacks probably about

the same age,” Shannon said. ”Now they’re older and you see the

development. N.C. State, Virginia Tech, Miami, Florida State,

Clemson … it’s all young guys who got older and in this league,

the quarterbacks all seem to be expanding their games and are

dual-threat guys as well, running and throwing.”

Two of the league’s best will be on display in a prime-time,

nationally televised game Saturday night, when Ponder and No. 23

Florida State head south to face Harris and the 13th-ranked

Hurricanes in a potential preview of the ACC championship game.

Harris has 46 touchdowns in his career, tied for 12th-most among

active major college players. Ponder is tied for 21st on that list

with 37 TD throws.

They’re hardly the only ones playing at a high level.

Wilson has thrown a scoring pass in 16 straight games going back

to last season, throwing for at least three TDs in 10 of those

contests. Maryland’s Danny O’Brien has made 63 collegiate throws;

six have gone for touchdowns. And just last weekend, Taylor and

Georgia Tech’s Joshua Nesbitt had touchdown passes in the final 90

seconds to win ACC games.

Top to bottom, the depth at quarterback across the league is

obvious.

”I think it’s a lot better than it’s been before,” Ponder

said. ”A lot of good guys, a lot of guys that are playing really

well. Jacory’s playing well, and Russell Wilson, Nesbitt’s making a

lot of plays, there’s a lot of guys out there, Tyrod had a big

last-minute touchdown in that game against N.C. State. A lot of

guys playing really well and it definitely helps the league, and

makes the league better.”

At Clemson, coach Dabo Swinney can’t help but wonder if the

added emphasis on passing comes from the simple fact that many

defenses across the league are just tougher against the run.

”You can’t run it,” Swinney said, ”you’ve got to throw

it.”

ACC teams have picked up 93 touchdowns on the ground so far,

which sets up another potential first since the league expanded:

Teams across the conference have rushed for 134 more TDs over the

past five seasons than they’ve managed in the passing game, always

getting more on the ground than through the air.

”This has been a defense league at least for the past several

years,” Swinney said. ”I don’t think you’re going to see us

become the Big 12 any time soon.”

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said this isn’t a fluke,

either.

Numbers don’t always tell the entire story, Fisher said, but the

way he sees it, the stats getting put up by quarterbacks around the

ACC are getting earned the hard way, without a bunch of gimmicks

and throwing the ball 50 or 60 times every outing.

”When a team’s got a great quarterback, man, they can always

win the football game,” Fisher said. ”A team’s always got hope.

Like I said, this game is no fun to play or coach if you don’t have

a good quarterback. And there’s a lot of them in this league right

now. It is a very good crop.”

Associated Press Writer Jeffrey McMurray in Clemson, S.C.

contributed to this report.