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ACC football 2021 position preview: Quarterbacks

A notable change atop this list in 2021...

Capital One Orange Bowl - Texas A&M v North Carolina Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

Welcome to July! And with that, Syracuse Orange football season previews are now cranked up yet another notch, as we add these conference position previews as well. Plus, thanks to some scheduling errors on my part in the spring, you get the back end of the opponent previews as well as these get going. “Fun,” for you anyway, even if not the person writing three previews per week right now.

Anyway: We talked Syracuse’s quarterbacks earlier this week. So now it’s worth diving into how that group stacks up against the rest of the ACC’s passers.

ACC Football 2021 Quarterbacks Preview

Last year’s top performers

Obviously Trevor Lawrence was good enough at Clemson to get himself selected No. 1 overall. As a junior in 2020, he threw for 24 touchdowns and nearly 3,200 yards while adding another 203 yards and eight scores on the ground. North Carolina’s Sam Howell actually had more passing touchdowns (30) and yards (3,586) in his sophomore campaign for the Heels, even if not the win total Lawrence amassed.

Those players were two of six QBs in the ACC to top the 2,500-yard mark for passing. The others were (in order): Notre Dame’s Ian Book, Miami’s D’Eriq King, Louisville’s Malik Cunningham and Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec. Just outside that number was Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, who remains effective and starting for the Panthers for what feels like the 10th straight year — despite no real highlights fans can point to.

ACC Championship - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Who will excel in 2021?

With all of that success above, you’d think there’s be a lot of turnover. And yet, it’s just Lawrence (draft) and Book (graduation, Notre Dame going back to independence) that are the main names out the door. That leaves Howell atop the pile auditioning for his own No. 1 selection next spring if he repeats the sort of production we’ve seen from his first two seasons already (over 4,200 passing yards and 68 TDs).

King should have an excellent campaign for Miami, and the same goes for Cunningham at Louisville since he has much of last year’s line intact plus a capable run game behind him once more. Even if Jurkovec didn’t necessarily wow last year (the number did at times, however), his own line situation should set him up well for at least a repeat of the yardage totals from 2020. No conversation about the upcoming season of college football would be complete without noting Clemson and QB DJ Uiagalelei, though. In relief of Lawrence last year (including a great deal of time vs. both BC and ND), he threw for 914 yards with five touchdowns and zero picks.

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

We mentioned Howell above, but you can’t state enough how good he’s looked through two years. That readiness for the pro game should make for another season for Mack Brown’s UNC revival project, unless the looming draft winds up a bit of a distraction — something that we won’t predict but certainly could happen since it’s occurred for others in the past. Even beyond Howell, Drake Maye’s a recent top-100 recruit. There’s plenty of talent at the position for the Tar Heels.

Miami’s transfer pick-up of D’Eriq King last year paid immediate dividends and fixes what’s been a sore spot as the program is still looking to be officially “back.” The ‘Canes have knocked on the door lately. King’s dynamic play under center could be what gets them there, though. It was a toss-up between Clemson and Louisville in third here, since the ranking for both relies heavily on the starter. Went with the Tigers, barely, because Uiagalelei is the better player. But both have depth issues at QB.

Bottom three units: 12. Syracuse, 13. Virginia Tech, 14. Duke

Syracuse’s appearance here shouldn’t surprise given the fact that no QB has started every game for the Orange since 2018 — and even then, that was the first occurrence of that since 2012. We’ll discuss more on SU in the final section as well.

Despite the Orange’s issues, though, Virginia Tech’s potentially in a tougher spot. Hendon Hooker transferred to Tennessee, and Braxton Burmeister didn’t really show enough (687 passing yards last year) to instill real confidence just yet. Duke’s added plenty of quarterbacks in recent recruiting classes, and loses last year’s starter — Chase Brice — to Appalachian State. Their QB situation is a bigger question than Syracuse’s right now, believe it or not. But the level of talent amid the uncertainty could wind up being higher by end-of-year.

NCAA Football: Cheez-It Bowl-Oklahoma State vs Miami Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

Top five quarterbacks in the ACC;

  1. Sam Howell, North Carolina
  2. D’Eriq King, Miami
  3. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson
  4. Malik Cunningham, Louisville
  5. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College

Where does Syracuse rank?

As mentioned, Syracuse comes in 12th, and you could make a case for them to place below Virginia Tech too, if you think the above is unnecessarily dismissive of Burmeister. The Orange have three quarterbacks on the roster who’ve started a college game — Tommy DeVito, JaCobian Morgan and Mississippi State transfer Garrett Shrader — which is more than a lot of teams can say. That doesn’t guarantee any of them are all that effective as a starting QB, of course. But the experience at least lends some depth and more options to a coaching staff that is getting close to the hot seat.