There’s no secret when it comes to the American Athletic Conference’s top quarterback. AAC newcomers will try to pursue both the top team, Louisville, and its elite quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater.
Here is our countdown of the top QBs in the ACC:
1. Teddy Bridgewater – Louisville
Bridgewater enters this season as one of the Heisman Trophy favorites after posting a huge 2012 campaign that he capped with a masterful performance in a win against Florida. The rising junior threw for 3,718 yards, 27 TDs and just 8 INTs. He also completed more than 68 percent of his passes. What works in Bridgewater’s favor – a weak league creating an easy schedule – could also work against him in Heisman voting. Another strong season will lead to an NFL team from excitedly drafting him early in next year’s draft regardless of Heisman standing.
2. Blake Bortles – Central Florida
Bortles led the Knights to the Conference USA Championship Game in 2012 by playing consistently well in his first full year as a starter. The rising junior threw for 3,059 yards with 25 TDs and 9 INTs. He can also run, evidenced by his 8 rushing TDs. Even against non-conference teams, Bortles held his own. He threw for 249 yards and 2 TDs – albeit with 3 INTs – in a decisive loss at Ohio State. He also threw 5 TDs in games against Akron and Missouri, playing well against both. Bortles could take his game to the next level in the AAC and could help UCF contend immediately if he does so.
3. Brendon Kay/Munchie Legaux – Cincinnati
First-year coach Tommy Tuberville said he wouldn’t name his starter until August. Don’t be surprised to see some of both Kay and Legaux. The two seniors each have experience. Legaux opened last year as the starter and leading the Bearcats to an upset win over Virginia Tech with a fantastic game-winning touchdown pass in the closing seconds. Losses against Toledo and Louisville as well as a subpar effort against Syracuse led to Legaux’s benching. Kay took the reins and – aside from a debacle against Rutgers – played very well. He threw for 332 yards and 4 TDs in a comeback bowl victory over Duke.
4. Gary Nova – Rutgers
Which Nova will first-year offensive coordinator Ron Prince coax out of the junior? The one who played well through the seven games last year (1,503 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs) or the one who threw 7 TDs against 13 INTs over the final six contests? For Rutgers to contend with Louisville, it needs the former – especially with RB Jawan Jamison’s decision to go pro. Nova has plenty of room for improvement on his accuracy after completing just 57 percent of his passes.
5. David Piland – Houston
Nine starters return for the Cougars, including Piland. As a sophomore last season, Piland threw for 2,924 yards and 16 TDs despite missing the final two games. He did, however, struggle with interceptions in certain games. The worst of Piland’s outings came in a 5-INT effort at UCLA. He also combined for 0 TDs and 4 INTs in losses to SMU and Tulsa. Most of Houston’s problems stemmed not from Piland but instead from the defense. Piland, in fact, was one of the few highlights for an otherwise bleak season. He threw for at least 300 yards in five of 10 starts and threw 4 TDs in two games. He must, however, play with far more consistency than he did a year ago.
6. Garrett Gilbert – SMU
A quarterback transfer from Texas teamed with passing game guru June Jones seemed like a winning combination in Dallas. The Mustangs did enough to qualify for a bowl game – where they beat Fresno State to finish with a winning record, but didn’t enjoy a breakthrough season. Gilbert’s uneven play was one of several factors that kept SMU from competing for the league title, as it was expected to do in 2012. Now the Mustangs step up in competition. Gilbert threw 3 TDs and 8 INTs against Baylor, Texas A&M and TCU last season.
7. Chandler Whitmer – UConn
This is the case of an incumbent starter sitting pretty because of a lack of competition, though Casey Cochran could potentially push Whitmer if he doesn’t take care of the ball. UConn turns to new offensive coordinator T.J. Weist out of necessity. Weist is tasked with providing Whitmer with a much-improved run game. The Huskies finished 117th in the nation in rushing yards in 2012. Whitmer threw touchdowns in as many games (six) as games in which he failed to throw a touchdown. The junior-college transfer threw for 2,659 yards but only 9 TDs against 16 INTs.
8. Jacob Karam – Memphis
Karam endured growing pains during his first season as a starter, but avoided critical turnovers and helped a bad Tigers team win their final three games of the season. He threw 7 TDs and 1 INT during that stretch. For the season, he completed 64 percent of his throws with 14 TDs and 3 INTs, but only passed for 1,895 yards. Memphis needs more production from the passing game as it enters into the AAC.
9. Bobby Eveld/Steven Bench/Matt Floyd – South Florida
Career backup Bobby Eveld or Penn State transfer Steven Bench will likely get the first chance to start for first-year coach Willie Taggart. Eveld has thrown 150 career passes and missed last season with a shoulder injury. Bench, a sophomore, has attempted eight total passes. Because of the NCAA sanctions against Penn State, Bench is eligible to compete for the starting job immediately. In three starts last season, Floyd certainly showed nothing to indicate he is ready to take the Bulls to the next level. In losses to Miami, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, Floyd threw 444 yards, 0 TDs and 5 INTs.
10. Connor Reilly/Chris Coyer/Juice Granger – Temple
Former offensive coordinator Matt Rhule must breathe some life into a non-existent passing game. He seems poised to hand over the reins to Reilly – a total afterthought under former coach Steve Addazio. Reilly, who also plays baseball, has yet to throw a collegiate pass. Neither Coyer nor Granger did much in 2012 to indicate they are the Quarterback of the Future at Temple.