The ACC has a strong case as college football’s best conference for overall quarterback play in 2015. This league features plenty of proven options, rising stars and passers poised for a breakthrough year. In a 14-team conference, it’s rare to see few teams with concerns under center, but the ACC is relatively stable at quarterback in 2015.
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson leads the way in the power rankings for the upcoming year, and he’s joined by fellow sophomore Brad Kaaya (Miami) at the top. But Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, North Carolina’s Marquise Williams and NC State’s Jacoby Brissett aren’t far behind.
To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2015. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors - pure talent, supporting cast, 2015 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) - were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the ACC for 2015.
ACC Quarterback Rankings for 2015
1. Deshaun Watson, Clemson
Injuries derailed Watson’s freshman season, but all signs point to a full recovery and a huge performance in 2015. Watson was regarded as one of the top quarterback recruits in the 2014 signing class and threw for 1,466 yards and 14 scores in eight appearances. He also added 200 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. Clemson won’t have Chad Morris calling the shots in 2015, but this offense shouldn’t miss much of a beat with Watson at the controls.
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2. Brad Kaaya, Miami
Kaaya was one of college football’s top freshman last season, finishing 2014 with 3,198 yards and 26 touchdown tosses. The future in Coral Gables looks bright for Kaaya, but the Hurricanes have question marks in the supporting cast for their quarterback. The offensive line returns only one starter, while running back Duke Johnson, tight end Clive Walford and standout receiver Phillip Dorsett must be replaced. Additionally, only one starter is back on the line. Will Kaaya build off his solid freshman season? Or will the supporting cast force a transition year?
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3. Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Thomas is a perfect fit in coach Paul Johnson’s option attack and should be one of the favorites to win ACC Player of the Year honors. En route to a Coastal Division title last season, Thomas rushed for a team-high 1,086 yards and eight scores and connected on 51.3 of his throws for 1,719 yards and 18 scores. Thomas will never post huge passing totals, but he tied for fourth among ACC quarterbacks with nine passing plays of 40 yards or more last season.
4. Marquise Williams, North Carolina
Scoring points won’t be a problem for Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels in 2015. North Carolina’s skill players and offensive line should be among the best in the ACC, and Williams returns as one of the league’s top quarterbacks after passing for 3,073 yards and 21 touchdowns and adding 783 yards and 13 scores on the ground. The senior ranked second in the ACC last season by completing 62.9 percent of his passes in league games.
5. Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Brissett might be the most underrated quarterback in the ACC. In his first season after transferring from Florida, Brissett threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns and guided NC State to a record of 8-5. Additionally, Brissett only tossed five picks and rushed for 529 yards and three scores. The senior could climb into the top three of ACC quarterbacks in 2015.
6. Everett Golson, Florida State
Golson’s place among ACC quarterbacks is tough to peg. There’s no denying his talent, but he also tossed 14 interceptions at Notre Dame last season and has to adapt to a new offense. And there’s also no guarantee he wins the starting job: Sean Maguire has spent the last three years in coach Jimbo Fisher’s system and finished spring at the top of the depth chart.
7. Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
Voytik showed steady improvement in the second half of 2014 and closed the year by throwing only one interception over his final six appearances. Pittsburgh won’t deviate much from leaning on its ground attack to carry the offense under new coordinator Jim Chaney, but Voytik should benefit from the addition of the veteran play-caller. After an efficient and productive close to the 2014 campaign, Voytik is poised for an even better 2015 campaign.
8. Reggie Bonnafon, Louisville
Injuries took a toll on Louisville’s quarterback depth chart last season, as three players earned starts and none managed to play in all 13 contests. Bonnafon impressed as a true freshman, finishing second on the team with 864 passing yards, while rushing for 164 yards and five scores on the ground. Bonnafon has to hold off Will Gardner, Kyle Bolin and talented freshman Lamar Jackson, but all signs point to the sophomore taking the first snap of the year against Auburn.
9. Michael Brewer, Virginia Tech
Improving the offense is a priority for Virginia Tech after averaging only 19.4 points in ACC games last season. Brewer had his share of ups and downs in his first year as the starter for the Hokies. He guided Virginia Tech to an upset win over Ohio State but also tossed 10 interceptions through the first five games. Brewer finished 2014 with 2,692 yards, 18 scores and 15 picks.
Related: ACC Predictions for 2015
10. Thomas Sirk, Duke
All signs point to Sirk as Duke’s next star quarterback under coach David Cutcliffe. The junior played in 12 games last season, completing 10 of 14 passes for 67 yards and three scores. While Sirk has to develop as a passer, there’s little doubt regarding his ability to make plays on the ground. On 47 carries in 2014, Sirk rushed for 238 yards and eight scores. The junior is one of the ACC’s top breakout options at quarterback.
11. Terrel Hunt, Syracuse
Hunt never had a chance to build off a promising end to the 2013 season, as a leg injury derailed his 2014 campaign. The senior is back to full strength and is a key cog in Syracuse’s hopes to improve in 2015. Prior to the season-ending leg injury, Hunt threw for 983 yards and one touchdown and added 292 yards and six scores on the ground. With Hunt back under center, along with the promotion of Tim Lester to coordinator, the Orange are in better shape offensively than they were at the end of 2014.
12. Matt Johns, Virginia
With Greyson Lambert transferring to Georgia, all signs point to Johns as Virginia’s starter for 2015. Johns showed potential last season in limited action, completing 54.9 percent of his passes for 1,109 yards and eight scores. The junior also showed a willingness to test defenses downfield, connecting on seven passes for 30 yards or more and one of 40 yards or longer. Improving the completion percentage is a priority for Johns after connecting on 54.9 percent of his passes in 2014.
13. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Wolford was placed into a difficult role last season, as Wake Forest’s offensive line and rushing attack was a major weakness. The Demon Deacons averaged only 3.4 yards per play, while the line surrendered 48 sacks in 2014. However, with a full year in coach Dave Clawson’s system, Wolford should be more comfortable as the starter. After throwing for 2,037 yards and 12 scores in 2014, the sophomore should be better – if the offensive line holds up – in 2015.
14. Darius Wade, Boston College
Wade ranks No. 14, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the sophomore finish higher on this list by December. Under coach Steve Addazio, Boston College molded the offense to fit the strengths of Chase Rettig in 2013 and Tyler Murphy in 2014. Wade played in four games last season and completed 3 of 8 passes for 23 yards and rushed for 12 yards on two attempts. Even with a revamped offensive line, Boston College can lean on its ground attack until Wade is settled under center.