ACC Preview: Ranking The QBs

Tajh Boyd tops the Saturday Blitz ranking of ACC quarterbacks. Behind Boyd, Clemson is favored to win the ACC this season. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Teams enter the season trying to catch Clemson and Florida State at the top of the ACC. Their chances might well hinge on the play – or rapid development – of quarterbacks.

Numerous teams will break in new signal-callers this season. If the strength of the ACC will be dictated by its depth, the conference will be rooting for potential to quickly morph into proven commodity.

Here is our countdown of the top QBs in the ACC:

1.      Tajh Boyd – Clemson

The reigning ACC Offensive Player of the Year returns for his senior season with a dynamic WR threat in Sammy Watkins and arguably the sport’s best offensive coordinator in Chad Morris. In other words, there is a ton to like about this year’s Clemson offense. Boyd is a true 21st-century quarterback, possessing dynamic ability with both his arm and legs. Last season Boyd completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,896 yards, 36 TDs and 13 INTs. He also rushed for 514 yards and 10 TDs. Only a loss to Florida State separated the Tigers from an ACC Championship Game appearance. Boyd threw for 3 TDs and helped Clemson build a 28-14 third-quarter lead, but the Seminoles bounced back with a 35-3 run to rip the game away. Boyd proved he could perform well in any league, playing well against two of three SEC defenses, but struggled against in-state rival South Carolina. Clemson finds itself as the conference front-runner this season largely because of Boyd. The senior’s play will likely determine whether the Tigers can live up to the hype and potentially exceed it.

2.      Bryn Renner – North Carolina

Renner doubled down on a strong sophomore year, taking a major step forward in 2012. He threw fewer interceptions and took fewer sacks under first-year coach Larry Fedora. Now the quarterback-coach duo has many thinking the Tar Heels could be an ACC party crasher. Even in losses last season, the blame could hardly fall at Renner’s feet. He threw at least one touchdown in 11 of 12 contests and threw more TDs than INTs in nine of 12. Renner can no longer count on superstar RB Giovani Bernard, who moved on to the NFL. The rising senior seems ready for the increased workload, though, and Carolina might be ready for a run at ACC big boys Clemson and Florida State.

3.      Stephen Morris – Miami

It’s no coincidence that Morris’ worst performances came against the Hurricanes’ strongest competition last season. Then again, few quarterbacks fared especially well against the likes of Notre Dame and Kansas State. For Miami to return to “The U” status, however, Morris must consistently play at the excellent level that allowed him to throw for 11 TDs and no INTs over his final four games in 2012. Morris is definitely up to the challenge. He also returns plenty of fellow weapons on offense, including RB Duke Johnson and leading WR Phillip Dorsett. Now a senior, Morris has a chance to propel the Hurricanes back toward the top of the conference before he leaves.

4.      Jameis Winston – Florida State

This is exactly a case of buying into the hype without having seen the product. Such practices often backfire, but Winston seems worth the belief. Florida State seemed inclined to start rising junior Clint Trickett, who proved competence in a couple starts in 2011 for an injured EJ Manuel. By the end of spring, Trickett decided to leave the program (where his father, Rick, coaches the offensive line) to enhance his opportunities for playing time. In other words, the time is now for Winston, ranked by Rivals as the No. 1 dual-threat QB in 2012. Living up to expectations will be especially difficult for Winston, who has been compared to Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward before ever throwing a collegiate pass.

5.      Logan Thomas – Virginia Tech

There’s no questioning the potential for Thomas, a 6-foot-6, 260-pound potential first-round NFL draft pick. Turning that considerable talent into results has proven more challenging than expected, though. First-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler hopes to turn the senior’s last chance into a story of redemption. In key games last year, Thomas disappeared. He threw three interceptions and completed less than 50 percent of his passes in an upset loss at Pittsburgh. Thomas also struggled with turnovers and consistency in consecutive losses to Clemson, Miami and Florida State (though he ran especially well against the Hurricanes). That Thomas was the leading rusher last year exemplifies that he might have simply had too much pressure to carry the offense. The Hokies were so inept offensively that they couldn’t win a division that featured North Carolina and Miami both ineligible for the title.

6.      C.J. Brown – Maryland

What might have been a bounce-back season for the Terrapins in 2012 came crashing down when Brown tore his ACL during August practices. That started a chain of unbelievable bad luck with coach Randy Edsall watching four quarterbacks suffer season-ending injuries. Maryland ended the season with converted linebacker Shawn Petty as QB1. Brown provides the Terps with a versatile, if at times unsteady, option at quarterback. Accuracy has never been a big part of Brown’s game, but his legs make him a difference-maker. Brown rushed for 100 yards three times in 2011 as a part-time starter. His ability to evade pass rushers also opens up the offense to potential big plays. Brown has never played a full season, but has the tools to help Edsall return the program at least to where he inherited it.

7.      Chase Rettig – Boston College

While Rettig couldn’t keep the Golden Eagles from an atrocious 2012 season, he certainly wasn’t the main culprit. With a sporadic (at best) run game, Boston College had to rely heavily on the junior. Rettig responded with a 3,000-yard passing season. He also managed to keep contests close against Miami, Northwestern and Virginia Tech. The next step will be for Rettig to cut down on interceptions, though he threw nearly half of his 13 picks in poor performances against Wake Forest and North Carolina State. His teammates could help. In addition to little run presence and a largely porous defense, the offensive line allowed 36 sacks.

8.      Vad Lee/Justin Thomas – Georgia Tech

Though no starter has been officially named, Lee seems the prohibitive favorite to land the QB1 spot. Whoever takes snaps on opening day will showcase a new phase of the Georgia Tech attack. Coach Paul Johnson, he of the traditional triple-option offense, spent the offseason studying option plays from the shotgun and pistol formations in hopes of improving the Yellow Jackets’ woeful passing attack from a year ago. Both Lee and Thomas are expected to be better passers than predecessors Tevin Washington and Josh Nesbitt. While that might be exciting to Tech fans, it’s worth mentioning that transitions to a new QB1 and a new offense could potentially spell early trouble.

9.      Tanner Price – Wake Forest

If coach Jim Grobe has his way, gone are the days of Price regularly attempting 30 passes or more. Price managed to throw for 2,300 yards last season as a junior, but Grobe would strongly prefer to return to a run-oriented attack that would take significant pressure off the passing game. The Demon Deacons narrowly missed a bowl game in 2012, needing to win one of their final three but instead dropping each of them. Price’s best performance came in a 293-yard, 3-TD effort in a victory over Boston College. His season came as a significant regression from his sophomore season, when he threw for 3,000 yards, 20 TDs and just 6 INTs. His TD/INT split fell to 12/7 a year ago.

10.  Anthony Boone – Duke

Don’t look for a significant step back at the quarterback position when Boone officially replaces Sean Renfree this fall. Boone showed flashes of potential in limited action last season, specifically in his lone start. The Blue Devils won that game 42-17 over Virginia with Boone playing a big role. The rising junior threw for 212 yards and 4 TDs in the victory. However, Boone struggled in a relief effort against Florida State, completing just 3 of 15 passes for 37 yards. Don’t hold that poor performance too much against Boone. Noted QB mentor David Cutcliffe plans to tailor the offense to best suit Boone’s playmaking skills as both a runner and passer. Look for Duke to run a spread offense with Boone as the focal point.

11.  Tom Savage/Chad Voytik – Pittsburgh

Another quarterback battle, another experience versus young talent competition. The winner replaces Tino Sunseri. Savage took the majority of spring practice reps with the first team, though coach Paul Chryst has yet to name his starter. Savage is in his third stop, having also passed through Rutgers – where he started as a highly-touted recruit – and Arizona. Voytik is the dual-threat option at Chryst’s disposal. Whoever wins the job will also be working with a new starting tailback, meaning there will be no watering down the workload.

12.  David Watford/Greyson Lambert – Virginia

The quarterback controversy of 2012 has been replaced by what looks sure to be the quarterback controversy of 2013. Channeling Bon Jovi, it’s all the same; only the names will change. Last year’s merry-go-rounders, Michael Rocco and Phillip Sims, both decided to transfer – Rocco at season’s end and Sims by the end of spring practice. Watford holds the edge in experience, having played in 2011 before redshirting last season. Lambert is well-known recruit who will undoubtedly become further entrenched the fan favorite after every mistake Watford commits. Virginia coach Mike London suffered through the quarterback carousel a year ago. Don’t think that will necessary change with a new cast of characters.

13.  Brandon Mitchell/Pete Thomas – North Carolina State

The good news for Thomas, a Colorado State transfer, is that he edged out Manny Stocker for first-team reps during spring practice. The bad news is that he failed to impress first-year coach Dave Doeren enough to warrant the official QB1 distinction. Worse, former Arkansas QB Brandon Mitchell joins the competition in August when it officially resumes. Mitchell left the Razorbacks because he didn’t get a chance to be the starter. It stands to reason he has reason to believe he will get a fair shake in Raleigh this fall. Whoever wins the battle has big shoes to fill in trying to replace Sean Glennon.

14.  Drew Allen/Terrel Hunt – Syracuse

Replacing fourth-round draft pick Ryan Nassib will be no easy feat for a team that is also breaking in a first-year coach in Scott Shafer. Star WR Alec Lemon is gone as well. Allen transferred in from Oklahoma and will be eligible immediately. The senior attempted 30 passes in garbage time at OU. He will likely have every chance to win the job when the position battle resumes in August. Hunt drew the most positive reviews coming out of spring practice, capped by a strong performance in the spring game. No experience from the quarterback(s) or head coach means the Orange will rank fairly low on this list.