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ACC football 2020 position preview: Quarterbacks

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Good news: Trevor Lawrence will likely be an NFL Draft pick in less than 12 months

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Louisiana State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the Syracuse Orange football team can turn things around this season, it’ll likely start at the quarterback position. With Tommy DeVito back and healthy, what looks like an improved line and a new offensive coordinator in Sterlin Gilbert, we’re at least optimistic about what could happen in 2020, if nothing else.

While we have no idea what’s going to happen on the field this fall, we’re going week by week this summer to talk about what each position group looks like across the ACC, plus how Syracuse stacks up comparatively. Since we already discussed Orange QBs this week, we might as well do the same for the conference overall.

ACC Football 2020 Quarterbacks Preview

Last year’s top performers

Despite getting to coast through much of 2019’s regular season, Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence still threw for 3,665 yards and 36 scores while picking up another 563 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. As he’s been for the last couple years, the future No. 1 overall pick is on the Heisman short list and should terrorize opponents once more.

The rest of the league has plenty of talent under center too, though. Sam Howell had a very impressive debut for North Carolina last year while throwing for 3,641 yards and 38 scores. Despite most fans not being able to remember a single pass he completed last year, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett still threw for over 3,000 yards. Jamie Newman (Wake Forest), Bryce Perkins (Virginia) and Micale Cunningham (Louisville) all threw for 20-plus TDs, while SU’s Tommy DeVito just missed the list himself with 19 on the year.

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-North Carolina vs Temple Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Who will excel in 2020?

Lawrence and Howell both return for their squads, which is why the Tigers and Tar Heels are likely the favorites to win their respective divisions. Pickett’s back too for Pitt, though he loses top target Maurce Ffrench. Louisville brings back Cunningham following last year’s breakout and Virginia Tech returns the impressive Hendon Hooker (1,555 yards and 13 TDs in just over half a season in 2019), who seems poised for a strong campaign now that he’s more entrenched as the Hokies’ starter.

After several years of quarterback questions, Miami found their answer this offseason in Houston transfer D’Eriq King. The impressive dual-threat signal-caller had 12 scores last year during an incomplete season, but 50 the year before and another 15 back in 2017. It’s a good bet he’ll be pretty dynamic for the ‘Canes this year, given his speed and play-making ability. Though Newman transferred to Georgia, Wake still has the pieces for a strong passing game assuming Sam Hartman looks more like the player we saw when healthy in 2018.

Top three units: 1. Clemson, 2. North Carolina, 3. Miami

Clemson’s been a top-three passing team in the ACC all but one season since 2011, and this year doesn’t seem like it’ll change that despite Lawrence’s reasonable competition at quarterback among the teams in this league. Beyond Lawrence, the Tigers remain loaded with talent too. DJ Uiagalelei (five stars) is the latest blue-chip freshman added to this program, joining Taisun Phommachanh (four stars) backing up Lawrence.

UNC’s own recruiting uptick means the Heels aren’t just limited to Howell, either. They landed four-star Jacolby Criswell this offseason and fellow four-star Jace Ruder was a four-star out of Kansas in 2018. Miami’s here in large part because of King’s abilities, and if they contend for a division title he’ll be the main reason why. Still, there are quality options beyond him if needed — like (former SU target) Tyler Van Dyke, former Ohio State transfer Tate Martell and previous starter N’Kosi Perry.

Bottom three units: 12. NC State, 13. Boston College, 14. Georgia Tech

State was a poor passing team last year, which got more obvious as the season wore on. And the most experienced returning options — Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman — only combined to go 155-for-307 with 1,765 passing yards, nine touchdowns and nine picks. There are younger and potentially more talented options on the roster like Ben Finley and Ty Evans. Still, we don’t know what exactly they have here.

BC’s passing attack was inaccurate last year, completing just 52.8 of passes. That said, they also managed 20 touchdowns vs. just six picks (though all but six of those TDs occurred in the front half of the season). Notre Dame transfer Phil Jurkovec is potentially their most experienced option this year. He’s 12-of-17 for 222 yards and two touchdowns in his college career. Georgia Tech, meanwhile, is Georgia Tech as they continue to pull themselves out of option hell. Freshmen James Graham and Jordan Yates weren’t overly impressive in 2019. But maybe another year on campus helps make them better passers.

Top five quarterbacks in the ACC:

  1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
  2. Sam Howell, North Carolina
  3. D’Eriq King, Miami
  4. Micale Cunningham, Louisville
  5. Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech
NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Where does Syracuse rank?

These evaluations aren’t just about the name at the top of the depth chart, but the entire position group for certain teams. And while DeVito showed flashes of what he could be last year and brings a ton of potential into this season with Gilbert’s play-calling, he’s also the only player we currently have faith in to get under center for Syracuse. That’s not to slight who else is on the roster, but as we know, QB recruiting has been tough these past couple years. I’d slot the Orange in around seventh or eighth here behind Clemson, UNC, Miami, Louisville, Virginia Tech and perhaps Pitt or FSU as well.