This may be a golden year for quarterbacks in the ACC, which perhaps not coincidentally has six teams in this week’s AP top 25 poll.
Four of those six teams are led by quarterbacks who are among the top 40 in efficiency rating. One of the teams that doesn’t have a quarterback ranked that highly? No. 3 Clemson, which features arguably the best player in college football, Gainesville’s Deshaun Watson. Georgia Tech will face the other in a long line of solid quarterbacks it has played – Watson two weeks ago, No. 10 Miami’s Brad Kaaya (No. 12 in efficiency) last week – when the Yellow Jackets take on Pittsburgh and quarterback Nate Peterman (No. 39) on Saturday.
“…This conference takes a back seat to no one in quarterback play,” said David Archer, an analyst for the ACC Network and the Falcons.
The rest of the list, starting from the most efficient, includes No. 25 Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans (No. 4 in efficiency), No. 17 North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky (No. 6), N.C. State’s Ryan Finley (No. 11) and No. 7 Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (No. 20), who may be the most exciting player in college football.
Watson, who outdueled Jackson last week and is among the favorites for the Heisman Trophy, is No. 61. Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas isn’t on the list because a quarterback must have a minimum of 15 attempts per game.
The reasons for the stellar quarterback play include a combination of improved facilities, better recruiting, coaching, game-planning and surrounding talent.
“You are starting to see the emergence of football in the ACC,” Wes Durham, formerly the broadcaster for Georgia Tech and who now does ACC games for Fox Sports South, said.
Some of the evidence in the effect that facilities can have on recruiting can be found in the hometowns of the quarterbacks. Few matriculated somewhere nearby. Trubisky came from Ohio to Chapel Hill, which was in the midst of multi-million dollar improvements to its facilities. Georgia Tech will face the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Nov. 5.
Jackson came to Louisville, which has also committed millions of dollars to athletics, from Florida. Kaaya is from California. Finley is a native of Phoenix. Peterman is a graduate transfer from Florida by way of Tennessee. Evans is a Texas native who came to Virginia Tech after playing at a junior college.
“You’d be hard pressed to find a place where you walk in and say ‘Ooh, what’s going on at quarterback?,’ ” Archer said.
The coaching helps too: Justin Fuente brought his high-powered offense from Memphis to Virginia Tech, and the Hokies are 3-1 with Evans, who has passed for 964 yards with 13 touchdowns and one interception. Georgia Tech will face Evans and the Hokies in Blacksburg on Nov. 12.
Mark Richt traded red and black for orange and green and has the Hurricanes, which recently announced a new indoor practice facility, unbeaten. Kaaya has passed for 935 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He passed for 241 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win over the Yellow Jackets.
Helping the quarterbacks are the talent around them.
In addition to the quarterbacks’ own talent and skill, former Miami and North Carolina coach Butch Davis, who is now an analyst for ESPN, noted that most of the quarterbacks on the list have something else in common:
“There’s no better compliment to take the pressure off of them than to have an outstanding running game,” he said.
Georgia Tech knows all about that because they’ve already faced some of the best in the ACC. While Watson passed for 304 yards, Wayne Gallman helped the Tigers rush for 138 yards and a touchdown. Miami rushed for 114 yards and two touchdowns, showing a commitment to running that is keeping defenses off Kaaya, who Davis said was getting hit too often in previous years.
The Yellow Jackets will face the dual threat again on Saturday in the passing of Peterman and the running of James Conner and Quadree Henderson, who have combined for 698 yards.
“They’ve played as well offensively as anybody we’ve played this year,” Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson said.
And it’s another sign that the ACC — and its quarterbacks — are better than most people may think.
“This is not the old ACC,” Johnson said. “Ten, 15 20 years ago there might be one ranked team. Now, you’ve got six. Every week there are pretty good teams.”