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Evaluating the ACC Coastal quarterbacks for the 2020 season

QB play in the ACC Coastal should be much improved for the 2020 season

Miami Hurricanes football practice Al Diaz/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Less than 10 years ago the Florida State Seminoles won the BCS National Championship behind the play of their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. The Clemson Tigers were ready to hit the national spotlight and win the College Football Playoff with their quarterback Deshaun Watson. Oh, and another Heisman Trophy winning quarterback, Lamar Jackson, was at Louisville lighting up scoreboards for the Cards all by himself.

As recently as the 2016 season the ACC had six teams finish with a top-25 ranking. But then the bottom fell out and the ACC, especially the Coastal, collapsed. Only Clemson is left as a viable national championship program with FSU and Miami sinking to sub-500 records, and actually with half of the entire ACC finishing sub-500, too.

Coaching and quarterbacks will determine how well your conference will perform. For years the Pac-12 was driven by coaching and quarterbacks, such as: Jim Harbaugh and Andrew Luck at Stanford; Chip Kelly and Marcus Mariota/Darron Thomas, and Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart. The ACC saw its heights when Bobby Bowden was coaching Chris Weinke and Charlie Ward. Without the right CEO over the program, and the right QB behind center- the ACC has fallen on hard times outside of Trevor Lawrence and Dabo Swinney.

However, the ACC reloaded on both coaching and quarterback talent. 2019 was a rough showing for it, but pre-COVID the 2020 ACC was looking for a rebound. Since the end of 2018’s ACC poor showing- Louisville hired Scott Satterfield, Florida State hired Mike Norvell, Miami brought in a new OC in Rhett Lashlee, UNC hired Mack Brown out of retirement and Georgia Tech hired Temple’s Geoff Collins.

The Coastal in particular has tried to kickstart themselves with the hirings of Collins and Brown, as well as Manny Diaz at Miami. Pitt and UVA are still playing Big Ten football but even those programs have started to become more modern on offense. Here are the ACC Coastal coaching and QB situations for 2020.

Duke Blue Devils

David Cutcliffe is still the head coach-slash-quarterback whisperer in Durham, NC. The Blue Devils head coach is known for grooming Payton and Eli Manning for the NFL, and turning Duke into a winning, bowl bound program. Duke has the shakiest QB situation in the ACC Coastal with a four-player race for the starting quarterback job.

Quentin Harris only started one season at Duke, replacing Daniel Jones, and throwing 16 touchdowns and running for seven more. Harris has graduated and Duke has the returning backup in junior Chris Katrenick as a clearcut favorite to start. But former blue chip prospect Chase Brice has transferred in from Clemson and should be able to compete right away. Dual-threat junior Gunner Holmberg from Wake Forest, NC and freshman three-star Luca Diamont from Venice, CA.

Whoever gets the nod you can assume they’ll play well under Coach Cut.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Georgia Tech was plagued by a number of things in 2019, and quarterback play was on the forefront of the issues. Geoff Collins came to Atlanta from the Temple Owls with a process in place. Collins rebranded Tech from the Navy of the south into a skillet of hip hop references, and Waffle House nods.

While the Jackets tried to convert their program from a flexbone triple option team into a modern spread-to-run approach, GT took their lumps going 3-9 in “Year Zero” of the Collins Era. James Graham returns as the incumbent starter after averaging only six yards per attempt and competing only 45% of his passes in 2019. He’ll be challenged by Jordan Yates and two true freshmen in four-star Jeff Sims of Jacksonville, FL and three-star Tucker Gleason of Tampa, FL. For any of these QB’s to be successful the offensive line has to improve drastically, both in health and ability, from a year ago.

Miami Hurricanes

Like Georgia Tech, Miami struggled to find a fit at quarterback throughout the 2019 season. The ‘Canes turned to Jarren Williams, N’Kosi Perry and even Tate Martell while finishing a lowly 6-7 overall. Manny Diaz came into 2019 on a yacht and left in Al Bundy’s Dodge after losses to FIU, Duke and Louisiana Tech to end the season. Diaz has attempted to cure The U’s offensive inefficiency by replacing Dan Enos with a new OC in Lashlee, and by signing transfer QB D’Eriq King.

King comes to Miami from Houston where he scored 82 total touchdowns while throwing for 8.2 yards per passing attempt over his career. King, a graduate transfer, has one year left in college to prove he’s an NFL caliber quarterback. The transition from the AAC to the ACC in the midst of COVID could slow his progress, but Miami fans have to be excited to have a real dual-threat QB behind center.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Sam Howell was going to be the prize of the 2019 FSU recruiting haul until Mack Brown and Phil Longo flipped him to the Tar Heels late in the process. Willie Taggart was fired and Brown has been lauded ever since. The UNC Tar Heels who were reeling at the end of the Larry Fedora era, bounced back quietly to a 7-6 season mostly due to Howell being extremely efficient for a true freshman. Keep in mind, of UNC’s six losses, two were in overtime and the largest margin of defeat was seven points.

Howell wrapped up his freshman campaign throwing 38 touchdowns with only seven interceptions while averaging 8.6 yards per attempt last season. He was particularly effective against a really good UVA defense averaging 12 yards per attempt with four touchdown passes. Howell is clearly the Coastal’s best returning QB and UNC is the Coastal’s top team per the SP+ preseason analytics.

Pittsburgh Panthers

Pat Narduzzi has done an admirable job of making PItt semi-relevant in the ACC. The Panthers have won the Coastal once, and finished .500 or better in four of five of Narduzzi’s seasons as head coach. A defensive-minded coach, Narduzzi has found mild success while rotating through OC’s while at Pitt. Matt Canada, Jim Chaney, Shawn Watson, and now Mark Whipple have held the OC title at Pitt.

Kenny Pickett returns for his fourth season as the primary starter for the Pittsburgh Panthers. Pickett is the same quarterback who knocked off 2nd ranked Miami back in 2017, which was the beginning of the end of the “We Back” campaign in Coral Gables. Pickett has never posted great numbers, as he averages under seven yards per passing attempt for his career and has thrown 26 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. However, Pickett has helped keep Pitt relevant.

Virginia Cavaliers

Bronco Mendenhall came to UVA from BYU where he had the Cougars in 12 straight bowl games and his worst record was 6-6 in 2005, his first year as head coach at BYU. Mendenhall brought his tough, hard-nosed, big boy football approach to Charlottesville, VA in 2016. The Hoos started off 2-10 but were in a bowl game in year two, and won the Coastal in 2019.

Mendenhall found great success at BYU with strong quarterback play and the same at UVA. Bryce Perkins played well enough scoring 67 touchdowns in two seasons as the starting QB. Perkins completed almost 65-percent of his passes averaging over seven yards per attempt. In 2020, UVA looks to a two-man QB race between Brennan Armstrong and Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson. Armstrong is a three-star dual threat QB from the class of 2018, while Thompson is a former four-star from New Orleans.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Justin Fuente has had an up and down ride as the head coach at Virginia Tech. Fans in Blacksburg had grown up with Frank Beamer as their head football coach and the transition wasn’t going to be easy. In fact, Fuente kept on Beamer’s old DC in Bud Foster until his retirement this season. Fuente, who came to the Hokies from Memphis, won the Coastal in year one but progressively has seen lesser and lesser results since including three straight bowl losses. Fuente’s seat is on fire and he’ll rely on Hendon Hooker to cool it down.

Hooker took over as the starting QB from Josh Jackson who has since transferred out of the program. The six-foot-four, 215 pound Hooker is a former four-star from North Carolina. Hooker’s first collegiate start saw him score four times with no interceptions against the Miami Hurricanes. He finished the season scoring 18 times with only two interceptions and completing 61-percent of his throws.

Which QB emerges on top in 2020?

As much as I love the move of King to Miami, the issues with COVID canceling spring football and now postponing workouts and surely the start of camp will hurt the timing and relationship of King and his wide receivers. The returning QB’s definitely have an advantage over transfers and freshmen in the age of COVID.

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Sam Howell is going to come out on top of the QB ‘king of the hill’ in 2020. Howell returns for his sophomore season with the same OC, Phil Longo, and has three second team All-ACC preseason threats in running back Michael Carter, all-purpose weapon Dyami Brown, and wide receiver Dazz Newsome. Offensive lineman Jordan Tucker made Athlon’s third team while running back Javonte Williams made the fourth team.

Howell has highly talented returning skill guys around him, his offensive coordinator is back, and he has a moxie about him in late-game situations. Howell should turn a few of those close losses into wins in 2020 and emerge as the ACC Coastal’s best QB.