On Wednesday, we previewed the Syracuse Orange’s quarterbacks -- which we expressed were SU’s deepest group in quite some time. But does that depth equal talent? And how does that talent stack up to the rest of the ACC?
Along with our Orange position group previews each week, we’ll also be offering a glance at the rest of the conference’s situation. Who’s in the best and worst shape? Which are the best returning players? And how does Syracuse compare to the other teams in the ACC?
Without further delay:
ACC Football 2017 Quarterbacks Preview
Last year’s top performers
Seven different ACC quarterbacks passed for over 3,000 yards during 2016, with another three just outside the mark. Louisville Cardinals Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson was obviously the league standard-bearer, with over 5,000 total yards and 51 touchdowns. That said, the Clemson Tigers’ Deshaun Watson put up numbers that were right there with him (over 5,000 total yards, 50 TDs) and they came with a national championship. Watson also had two more games to hit those marks. But he was still the conference leader in passing yards per game (306.2).
The 2016 season was far from a two-man race at QB, though. We saw firsthand the type of season Eric Dungey was having for Syracuse before his injury (297.7 passing yards per game). And North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky threw for 30 touchdowns of his own (a mark only he, Watson and Jackson hit in the ACC). Four ACC passers were drafted -- Trubisky, Watson, Pitt’s Nathan Peterman and Miami’s Brad Kaaya. Evans signed with the Eagles as a free agent this offseason.
Who will excel in 2017?
Back in May, SB Nation’s Bud Elliott explained why defense would be the focus in the ACC, as a young group of quarterbacks take over around the conference. Jackson returns, and thus leads the pack going into this upcoming fall. And if he can avoid taking the sorts of hits he did last season, it stands to reason that Florida State’s Deondre Francois will be the league’s No. 2 passer. Based on the projected numbers he should be able put up in the second year of Dino Babers’s system, Dungey may very well be the ACC’s third-best QB heading into 2017.
There are other names to challenge for that as well, though. Duke’s Daniel Jones had a breakthrough freshman campaign with over 2,800 yards passing (and another 486 on the ground). Ryan Finley’s back for NC State as well, after throwing for 3,055 yards last season. Another name to watch could be Pitt’s Max Browne, who transferred over from USC.
Top three units: 1. Florida State, 2. Louisville, 3. Syracuse
Jackson’s the leader for obvious reasons, and he’s backed up by four-star dual-threat Jawon Pass, who’s a redshirt freshman. However, the depth there is really just two deep (three if you want to count three-star Malik Cunningham). Along with Francois, Florida State has numerous blue-chippers ready to step in -- JJ Cosentino and Bailey Hockman are four-stars, and James Blackman’s a high three-star.
Syracuse’s depth and experience (in part, created by injury) sets them up to excel within Babers’s offense no matter which one is under center. Dungey is the clear-cut starter, obviously. But Zack Mahoney showed he could also run the offense last year in a record-setting performance vs. Pitt. Along with redshirt freshman Rex Culpepper (high three-star), four-star passer Tommy DeVito is also on the roster this fall.
Bottom three units: 12. Wake Forest, 13. Virginia, 14. Boston College
I was tempted to rank Miami down here, simply because there’s little experience on the roster -- which is not the case with any of the teams above. But the overall talent UM has at its disposal should be able to outweigh that inexperience, especially relative to these three squads.
All of them possess a real lack of offensive identity and excitement, and all have dealt with considerable injuries and replacement under center in recent years. Led by Patrick Towles last year, BC was among the worst passing teams in the country (143.8 yards per game) and they don’t even bring his services back this season. Wake stands to improve from their own QB rut just by way of getting Kendall Hinton back under center (he missed most of last year). But Virginia needs more than just health. Kurt Benkert put up reasonable numbers last year (2,552 yards, 21 TDs), but it didn’t lead to much. He’ll need a true offensive gameplan around him this season.
Top five quarterbacks in ACC
- Lamar Jackson, Louisville
- Deondre Francois, Florida State
- Eric Dungey, Syracuse
- Ryan Finley, NC State
- Daniel Jones, Duke
Where does Syracuse rank?
Third, as mentioned above. Since we’re not always among the top units/individuals, this space will be a bit more lively for some of the other position groups.