New QBs on the Block: The numbers behind a new batch of ACC Quarterbacks

In a lot of ways, it’s a changing of the guard for the quarterback position in the ACC. The league houses the top quarterback prospect in the country — Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence; and over at Virginia, Bryce Perkins is a dual-threat stud, too. Beyond those two, though, the ACC, at least on the surface, lacks serious depth at the game’s primary position.

Related to that, the ACC welcomes in a new set of starting quarterbacks, including one true freshman: Sam Howell at North Carolina. With so many question marks at quarterback, it’s hard to gauge the league’s overall health at the position. Could one of these new(ish) quarterbacks turn into a surprise star? Or will most of these teams deal with frustration and musical chairs at the position?

As the first full week of the college football season arrives, let’s get to know some of the ACC’s new quarterbacks a little more.

(To qualify for this last, players must have started four or fewer career games. Florida State’s James Blackman, who started 12 games in 2017 and another contest last season, is excluded.)


Duke — Quentin Harris

After waiting for four full seasons, Quentin Harris, who just spent the last three seasons backing up Daniel Jones, will get his turn as quarterback at Duke. His reward: a matchup with Alabama and its roster of future NFL stars. (Yay!) Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide, however, will be without star linebacker Dylan Moses.

Over the last two seasons, Harris has seen action in 22 games, including two starts during the 2018 campaign. In wins over Baylor and NC Central, Harris tossed six touchdown passes — three in each game — to no interceptions. Overall, Harris completed 34-of-68 (50 percent) passes for 437 yards and seven touchdowns, against one interception.

He also, officially, ran the ball 46 times for 195 yards (4.24) and five touchdowns. However, if you add back in yards lost on sacks to his rush total, his average jumps to 4.7 yards per carry (5.72 highlight yards per carry).

As we all know, David Cutcliffe is one of the best in the game at grooming quarterbacks; during his time in Durham, Jones wasn’t the only player that found success under center. After backing up Sean Renfree for two seasons, Anthony Boone led two successful campaigns (2013-14) for the Blue Devils. In 2015, Thomas Sirk followed suit and did the same thing: 16 touchdown passes and eight more wins.

For Harris, all of the eggs are in the 2019 basket. Also: I, too, like to live dangerously, Chris.


Georgia Tech — Lucas Johnson

Recruited to Georgia Tech by Paul Johnson in 2016, Lucas Johnson isn’t new to life on The Flats. He’s been at the school for years now. However, he’s seen very little game time — nine games during the 2017 season, which included just one carry. And Georgia Tech is going through a massive overhaul as the program transitions from Paul Johnson’s option offense to Geoff Collins and the 21st century.

That will take time, and Johnson — depending on how things go this season — could feature prominently into the macro picture. Earlier this summer, Johnson received a sixth year of eligibility; he can play football for three more seasons.

There’s a long road ahead. Starting things off at No. 1 Clemson for the launch of the ACC Network is no walk in the park, either. But there’s a chance to build here, in Atlanta, and having opportunities for growth is good. Johnson could be the start of things to come.


Miami — Jarren Williams

It was a bit a of a surprise two weeks back when Miami named redshirt freshman Jarren Williams as its starter. While Williams struggled some during the team’s season-opening loss against Florida — amid constant pressure — he still put together a solid line. Williams, in his first career start, went 19-0f-29 (65.5 percent) for 214 yards (7.4 yards per attempt), one touchdown and no interceptions.

That touchdown pass — the first of his career — was a 25-yard strike, off a deflection, to tight end Brevin Jordan. Along with Jeff Thomas, Jordan should continue to function as a go-to receiver this season for Miami.

What needs to change, though, is the protection of Williams; Miami allowed 10 sacks to a hungry Gators defense, hence the comical -44 total rushing yards for Williams. (Those 10 sacks produced a loss of 60 total yards, too.)

In general the game was pretty sloppy — on both ends, which was to be expected. When Williams had time to throw, however, he did some good stuff.

During the entire 2018 season, Williams completed just 1-of-3 passes and ran for a touchdown, too. All of this is a big turn of events for the 6-foot-2 quarterback. That can be daunting, but Williams seems to be taking it in stride; he certainly has the support of his teammates, too, like Jordan.

Miami has a very good defense, and if Williams can take care of the ball and hit a few explosive plays, the Hurricanes could win the Coastal. For now, though, a bye week seems needed.


NC State — Matt McKay

On the Monday before the team’s opener against East Carolina, NC State named redshirt sophomore Matt McKay as the starting quarterback. After three seasons of strong performances from Ryan Finley — now with the Cincinnati Bengals — Doeren must work with another quarterback. His two most recent projects — Jacoby Brissett and Finley — both play in the NFL now.

Doeren, like many coaches, favors quarterbacks that minimize risk and manage the game with efficiency. With the always-cautious Finley, it was a match made in heaven. For McKay, well, even after beating out FSU transfer Bailey Hockman and Devin Leary, there’s still a lot to prove, though there are reasons for optimism, too.

During the 2018 season, McKay played in five games and completed 7-of-8 pass attempts for 87 yards. McKay, who played 14 snaps in a road win at Louisville, also ran for a touchdown in the home win over Georgia State.

A former 3-star recruit from Raleigh, McKay — who hails from Raleigh — picked NC State over scholarship offers from West Virginia, Pittsburgh and Temple.

NC State will likely lean hard on its ground game and defense — which projects as a top-50 unit in terms of S&P-plus — but McKay does have a good set of receivers to distribute the ball to as well.


North Carolina — Sam Howell

As Mack Brown returns to Chapel Hill, and the Phil Longo era on offense gets set to start, the keys to the car have been handed to a true freshman: Sam Howell. A 4-star recruit in the 2019 class, and one of the top dual-threat passers, Howell initially committed to Florida State. Not long after the hiring of Brown, however, Howell flipped his commitment to UNC. He was Brown’s first big get.

Eight months later, Howell was named the team’s starter. When North Carolina takes on South Carolina this weekend in Charlotte, Howell will be one of four true freshman quarterbacks starting for an FBS team.

While at Monroe (N.C.) Sun Valley, Howell put up silly numbers — throwing for over 13,000 yards and 145 touchdowns in his prep career. Longo likes to play fast and throw the ball around the lot; Howell will have plenty of opportunities to put up big numbers, which has pros and cons. Mistakes will be made, no doubt, but Brown’s playing with house money this season in Chapel Hill. As long as the team continues to recruit well, rebuild goodwill with the fan base and approach a winning record, this will be considered a success — for now, at least.

Regardless, this is Howell’s team. He’s the present and future of quarterback play for the Tar Heels.


Syracuse — Tommy DeVito

The launch of the Dino Babers era of Syracuse Football will be synonymous with Eric Dungey at quarterback. However, after three seasons leading the offense, it’s now Tommy DeVito’s time at quarterback for the Orange.

DeVito, a 4-star recruit in Syracuse’s 2017 class, landed on the field in 2018 — in part due to injuries with Dungey, but also because the coaching staff thought he gave them a good chance to win at times, too. That includes the comeback victory over UNC.

According to, DeVito completed 18 passes of 10 or more yards (41 percent of his total completions and nine passes of 20+ yards. With the go-go pass-happy approach of Dino Babers, DeVito should put up video game numbers this season as a full-time starter. Arm strength certainly isn’t an issue here.

Something to keep an eye on, though: sacks. DeVito was sacked 11 times last season, which translated to a sack rate of 11.2 percent. There’s some noise in this smaller sample, but this is something that must drop.


Wake Forest — Jamie Newman

After what he did over the final four games of the 2018 season, Jamie Newman is more of a known commodity; however, he has just four career starts to his name, which means he lands inside the bounds of this list.

After Wake Forest went 3-1 with Newman as a starter last year, the 6-foot-4 signal-caller kept the good vibes going in the offseason. Newman claimed the starting job over Sam Hartman, who started the first nine games of the 2018 season.

Newman went 84-of-141 (59.6 percent) through the air for 1,083 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Newman averaged 7.7 yards per pass attempt. He also ran the ball, officially, 64 times for 247 yards and four touchdowns, too.

Now a redshirt junior, Newman is a cool customer who can win plays with his legs and arm, which allows Wake Forest to attack with zone-read looks. During a 52-point road victory at Duke, Newman picked the Blue Devils apart: 18-of-23 (78.3 percent) for 177 yards and four touchdowns. He was especially brilliant against the blitz.

Four weeks later — in the bowl win over Memphis — Newman throw for 328 yards and ran for three more touchdowns.


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