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UVA QB Brennan Armstrong enters transfer portal: TNIAAM roundtable reacts

The record-breaking quarterback is an intriguing option in the transfer portal

Virginia v Syracuse Photo by Bryan Bennett/Getty Images

While the Syracuse Orange prepare for bowl season, other teams are dealing with program upheaval in large part due to the transfer portal. We’ve seen a lot of portal activity across college football, especially last season with the introduction of NIL. The Orange didn’t dip into the portal too much last offseason, but that might change with a very intriguing name that is reportedly available: Virginia quarterback Brennan Armstrong.

Armstrong lit the Virginia record books on fire. He holds multiple program records, including single-season passing yards with 4,449 in 2021, career passing yards with 8,442, season passing touchdowns with 31 in 2021 and career passing touchdowns with 57. Most notably, Armstrong spent his first three seasons at Virginia with current Syracuse offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Robert Anae and Jason Beck. The duo was a large reason for Armstrong’s record-setting year.

Anae and Beck aren’t the only Syracuse members familiar with Armstrong as the Orange played Virginia earlier this season. In a way, the Syracuse game encapsulated Armstrong’s return-to-earth season in 2022 with only 138 yards on 19-38 passing with a touchdown and interception. While Armstrong had 2,210 passing yards on the season, he only completed 54.7% of his passes and only had seven touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

Because of the big name and the connections to Anae and Beck, it would make sense to add Armstrong to the Orange program. So should Syracuse do so? The TNIAAM football wing weighs in:

Christian: The passing upgrade is a definite plus. I might go as bold as to say that Syracuse hasn’t had a passer like Armstrong since Ryan Nassib. With Armstrong at the helm, you have a downfield threat in the passing game that Syracuse could’ve greatly benefited from this season.

Mike: We know what Armstrong’s ceiling is: a truly dynamic arm with the ability to scramble when needed. We also know that he’s had his greatest success with Robert Anae and Jason Beck as his coaches. If they are serious about making Syracuse a pass-first offense, Armstrong can make that reality happen a lot sooner.

Dom: In theory, the Orange acquire a consistent big-play quarterback who can jolt the offense and give the program a better chance against the ACC. Certainty also matters: Armstrong would provide Syracuse with a similar run-pass option QB, but with an arguably higher ceiling compared to Garrett Schrader. The floor is similar compared to Schrader, but the ceiling is intriguing to say the least.

What are the disadvantages of adding Armstrong to the program?

Christian: If you bring in Armstrong, what does that say to the other quarterbacks in Syracuse? No matter what you think of their skill level, the Orange QBs probably believe that have enough talent to at the very least battle for the starting job next season. While many fans would welcome the addition of Armstrong, you could start a QB exodus and really hamper the depth at a position where we’ve seen it needed at Syracuse.

Mike: There was a special connection between Garrett Shrader and Oronde Gadsden this past season, but there’s never a guarantee that a new QB will have the same preferences among his WRs. Now, Gadsden has not entered the portal... yet. But to me, it’s hard to say whether adding Armstrong would entice him to stay or encourage him to look elsewhere out of fear of losing his target volume.

Dom: Situation matters. On the same program with different coordinators and a shifted gameplan, Virginia finished last in the ACC in touchdowns scored after Armstrong had a statistically-great year in 2021. If the Orange don’t have legit options at receiver, that could be a problem if Armstrong were to join the team. Adding Armstrong wouldn’t make the Orange an elite offense overnight if other supporting pieces aren’t in the fold.

What stands out about Armstrong’s game?

Christian: The booming arm is a plus. He had a longest pass of 40 yards or more in seven games this year for Virginia. Armstrong also has two games with a long pass of over 60 yards, which Garrett Shrader doesn’t have this season. Armstrong is also a sneaky efficient runner with 20 rushing touchdowns in his career with UVA.

Mike: I like what you said there Christian: sneaky efficient. Everyone knows the threat of Shrader scrambling on any given play, but Armstrong picks his moments very carefully and seems to know exactly when to take off. Defenses have to respect his slingshot arm enough to put a few men deep, preventing them from constantly stacking the box.

Dom: The big-play potential Armstrong provides can’t be under-stated. The accuracy is great when he’s going, but it’s specifically his ability to put the ball in the right spot to make a play after the catch that stands out. He keeps defenses on edge with his ability to scramble out of the pocket, but he can make throws on the move that can still lead to bigger-yardage and scoring outcomes.

Old Dominion v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

What concerns do you have, if any?

Christian: The completion percentage and interceptions from 2022 are concerning to me, as we’ve seen what happens if the Orange defense is forced onto the field too often and too quickly. Syracuse’s defense isn’t built on three-and-outs. It’s built on stopping teams at the right moments. If the Orange offense can’t match the time of possession, the defense can’t play to its strength. Incompletions and turnovers turn the TOP towards the other team.

Mike: Hindsight says that Armstrong should have declared for the NFL Draft after his fantastic 2021 campaign. There’s always the possibility that coaching isn’t the main reason for his downfall, and that he’s simply cooked from attempting 500(!) passes in a single season.

Dom: As I said situation matters. However, you have to ask if the 2021 campaign is a little bit out of a statistical outlier. I don’t think Armstrong’s 2022 season represents how good he really is, but I’m also uncertain he can come really close to repeating the statistical production from two seasons ago.

Do you think Syracuse offers Armstrong? If so, does he choose Syracuse?

Christian: Given the history between Anae, Beck and Armstrong, you’d expect at least an offer. It’d be really surprising if there wasn’t an offer headed towards his way. I also think Armstrong could see himself ahead of Syracuse’s QBs right now, but the offensive line questions and wide receiver questions behind Oronde Gadsden might make the explosive potential seem lackluster. The crowded QB room could also deter Armstrong. All that added together and I’m less certain Armstrong choose Syracuse.

Mike: I’m always of the belief that you can’t have too many options on the table. The best programs bring in multiple good players at each position and let the best man win - so to not even offer Armstrong when he has a personal connection with the SU offensive minds would be a huge wasted opportunity. I think he ends up elsewhere because of the question marks on the O-line, but you have to try anyway.

Dom: You have to imagine given their past connection, a reunion in ‘Cuse would have its benefits for both Armstrong and the Syracuse football program. A potential rehabilitation project could be in the works to put Armstrong back on the map of good college quarterbacks, while the Orange get the chance to boast a notable name in the college football landscape. With that said, based on Syracuse’s lack of depth at the offensive line and wide receiver positions, you have to ask if Armstrong sees Syracuse as a legitimate upgrade over Virginia, or if another program can offer what Armstrong is looking for.

If Armstrong commits to the Orange, how does that affect your perception of the 2023 season?

Christian: I can believe that Armstrong’s 2022 season was a fluke season and that with Anae and Beck coaching him, the Orange offense should look much better. You have a quarterback capable of stretching the field, giving the running game more freedom to get to the second level without much hassle. We also know Syracuse has downfield receiving threats in Damien Alford, Umari Hatcher and of course Gadsden so the Orange could have a much better offensive team than what fans saw during the five-game losing streak this season. All that adds up to a record better than 7-5.

Mike: I would have to wait and see if it/how shakes up the Orange in the transfer portal. Could Courtney Jackson change his mind with a new QB who’s spread the ball around more? Would it cause Gadsden, Shrader, and/or others to also want to look at other options? On the flip side, does Armstrong entice other weapons more than Shrader would? I’d imagine so with this coaching.

Dom: It’s a toss-up, for now. On paper, Armstrong would be a great addition to the team. Especially against the high-powered offenses of the ACC, he can develop drives if he’s given the pieces needed. If the Orange can do that, I expect the program to at least play .500-level football. If Armstrong really returns to form, that would be scary for the rest of the conference. From an optimistic lens, he gives Syracuse some scoring upside the program hasn’t had in a long-time.