Change at the top: ACC Coastal teams on the QB carousel

Two teams in the ACC Coastal – Duke and UVA – return starting quarterbacks from a year ago.

accFunny, given the importance that QB play has on a team’s prospects for a season, that Duke was picked sixth and Virginia seventh in the preseason rendering of how things are going to shake out in the Coastal, isn’t it?

“I can promise you this. I am very grateful that we have a quarterback that’s a returning starter. I just hope and pray we can keep him healthy,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, who has redshirt sophomore Daniel Jones (2,836 yards, 16 TDs, 9 INTs, 126.2 passer rating) to count on at signal-caller.

It may actually be more important that Virginia keep its incumbent starter at quarterback, Kurt Benkert (2,552 yards, 21 TDs, 11 INTs, 120.6 passer rating) healthy, given the lack of depth behind Benkert.

But that said, you’re not going to have anybody else in the Coastal feeling sorry for Cutcliffe or UVA coach Bronco Mendenhall with their worries about their starting QBs’ health.

Because the focus elsewhere is right now on figuring out who will earn the snaps with the first-team offense in camp heading into their season openers in September.

“I don’t know. That’s a good question. The guy that practices the best,” said Mark Richt, the head coach at Miami, the preseason favorite in the Coastal, who has to replace departed three-year starter Brad Kaaya (3,532 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 150.3 passer rating).

The battle at The U is down to two guys anointed co-No. 1’s after the spring by Richt: redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs and redshirt junior Malik Rosier. True freshman N’Kosi Perry may also make some noise in camp.

“It’d be nice to know right now,” Richt said. “It would be nice to give that guy as many quality reps as he could get. If I had to guess, at the latest I hope to know after our second scrimmage. Maybe not immediately when it’s over, but after looking at film and evaluating everything. Maybe we’d need a day or two for that, but I would hope to know by then. Somewhere along the line you’ve got to get game-planning started, and rep the guy you’re going to play.”

Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente is facing a similar scenario trying to replace Jerod Evans (3,552 yards, 29 TDs, 8 INTs, 153.1 rating). The battle in Blacksburg involves redshirt freshman Josh Jackson, transfer A.J. Bush and true freshman Hendon Hooker.

“We’ve obviously got an open competition there at quarterback, three very capable candidates,” Fuente said last week. “I really believe that offense has got to fit the quarterback and whatever his skill set was, and I think Brad Cornelsen did a fantastic job last year of twisting and turning the offense to fit Jerod`s skill set, and in turn it was very, very productive.”

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora has to replace Mitch Trubisky (3,748 yards, 30 TDs, 6 INTs, 158.3 passer rating), who went #2 in the 2017 NFL Draft. The top candidates for the job this fall are Brandon Harris, a grad transfer from LSU, the early favorite, along with junior Manny Miles, sophomore Nathan Elliott and a pair of redshirt freshmen, Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd.

“The guy that’s going to win that job is going to be a guy that can lead our football team, one,” Fedora said. “He’s got to be able to make good decisions and take care of the football, and if he does those things, keeps moving those chains beyond the white lines, then he can be a guy that can help us be successful.”

Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi lost two-year starter Nathan Peterman (2,855 yards, 27 TDs, 7 INTs, 163.4 passer rating) to the NFL. His targets for the starting quarterback job in 2017 include USC transfer Max Browne and last year’s No. 2, Ben Dinucci, with redshirt freshman Thomas MacVittie and true freshman Kenn Pickett also in the mix.

Georgia Tech has a battle of its own to see who will take the controls of Paul Johnson’s triple-threat option attack following the departure of Justin Thomas (1,559 yards passing, 604 yards rushing, 14 total TDs, 157.0 passer rating), with Matthew Jordan leading the four-candidate race with converted running back TaQuon Marshall, Lucas Johnson and Jay Jones also getting reps behind center.

Jordan led the Yellow Jackets to an upset win over Virginia Tech in Blacksburg last year in a start in place of an injured Thomas and seemed to have a leg up on the competition as a result. But an injury limited Jordan’s time in the spring and opened things up heading into fall camp.

“I feel good about that position,” Johnson said. “You know, it’s Matthew’s job to lose, but I think we’ve got four guys at that position that I could call a game for right now, and they’re going to have the luxury of being surrounded – it’s very similar to three years ago when Justin was first starting and he was surrounded by a bunch of guys that had experience and had played a lot of football. And for us, four of the five offensive linemen are back, all the running backs and the leading receivers, so he’s going to be surrounded, whoever it is, by a group of guys that have played a lot, and that season worked out pretty good.

“We ended up in the Orange Bowl and beating Mississippi State. Maybe hopefully we’ll have another year like that.”

Story by Chris Graham