Wanted: Starting quarterbacks for the ACC's Coastal Division
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) The ACC's Coastal Division has always been unpredictable, and there's no reason to believe this year will be any different.
With five of seven teams replacing starting quarterbacks, the division that hasn't seen a repeat champion since 2010-11 could be up for grabs yet again. There is no definitive favorite.
North Carolina might have had the edge had Mitch Trubisky not turned pro a year early and been selected No. 2 overall in the NFL draft. The same goes for Virginia Tech, who lost Jerod Evans early even though he went undrafted. Miami's Brad Kaaya, Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas and Pitt's Nathan Peterman are also gone, leaving voids under center at those schools.
That leaves Duke's Daniel Jones and Virginia's Kurt Benkert as the only returning starting QBs in the Coastal - although those teams finished 1-7 last year in division play and are rebuilding.
But in the Coastal Division, it's usually unclear who will emerge.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said he has his deepest team ever.
''I can promise you this, I'm truly grateful that we have a quarterback who is a returning starter. I'm just hoping we can keep him healthy,'' Cutcliffe said.
Jones said being thrown in the fire last season as a redshirt freshman allowed him to make mistakes and learn from them. He struggled in a 24-30 loss to Virginia, but began to show he has the potential to play at a high level by the end of the season.
Now some are hyping Jones as a potential NFL quarterback.
Jones said he's benefited greatly from playing for Cutcliffe, who has worked closely in the past with Peyton Manning.
''In terms of knowing the technical aspects of the game, he's second to none,'' Jones said of Cutcliffe.
Jones is physically stronger and faster and light years ahead of last year in terms of his knowledge of the game, according to Cutcliffe.
''But the biggest difference is confidence and leadership and knowing what he is capable of doing,'' Cutcliffe said. ''Every great player has to fail and learn to turn it around quickly. You are going to have some rocky roads.''
Benkert is familiar with that rocky road.
He went through plenty of growing pains last year in his first season as Virginia's starter, and said being one of the senior statesmen at his position in the division will pay dividends for Virginia.
''There's something to be said about experience,'' Benkert said.
Benkert said having that experience brings immediate respect when you step in the huddle.
''Just for the guys around you, them knowing that this isn't my first time out and this isn't my first rodeo I think gives them confidence as well knowing they have somebody they can look to,'' Benkert said.
The Tar Heels figured they would have Trubisky for his senior year.
He'd only thrown 125 passes prior to last season, but his stock skyrocketed and he quickly grabbed the attention of NFL scouts.
North Carolina brought in graduate transfer Brandon Harris from LSU to fill in this year with questions still surrounding youngsters like Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd. Harris started 25 games at LSU, which gives him more overall experience than any QB in the Coastal, although he has never played in North Carolina's system.
Nathan Elliott may compete, too.
Virginia Tech won the Coastal Division last year behind Evans, who turned pro early only to go undrafted.
Second-year coach Justin Fuente isn't tipping his hand on who'll replace Evans after spring practices failed to distinguish a front runner among junior college transfer A.J. Bush, redshirt freshman Josh Jackson and freshman Hendon Hooker.
''We have an open competition at quarterback,'' Fuente said. ''There are three capable candidates. ... The biggest thing for us is the supporting cast, in terms of finding other wide receiver and getting more production from the running backs so that our quarterback does have a chance to be productive.''
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