College football's 2022 season is still months away, but spring practice is just around the corner, and it’s time to take a look at quarterback play in the ACC. With the bulk of the transfer movement and National Signing Day in the books, most of the 131 programs at the FBS level have a good idea of how their roster is going to look this season. The quarterback position is always under the spotlight, but the transfer portal has added another avenue for teams to quickly improve a struggling signal-caller or find the right option.
It’s a deep year for quarterback play in the ACC going into spring practice for the ’22 season. Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman, Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke and NC State’s Devin Leary headline the top group of options returning this fall. Additionally, Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Florida State’s Jordan Travis and Boston College’s Phil Jurkovec are back to headline a strong second tier.
With spring practice quickly approaching, Athlon Sports will examine the quarterback situations for the Power 5 conferences and how the outlook has changed from '21. Here's a look at the ACC for '22:
ACC Football: Early 2022 QB Preview and Rankings
Projected 2022 Starter: Phil Jurkovec
Jurkovec was primed to rank as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks last season, but a wrist injury in early September limited him to just six games. Jurkovec averaged 9.5 yards per attempt over six contests and completed 54.2 percent of his passes for 914 yards and seven scores.
Key Spring Storylines: A healthy season out of Jurkovec will help his stock rebound in ’22. Boston College does have to retool the offensive line with four starters departing for the NFL.
Projected 2022 Starter: DJ Uiagalelei
Clemson’s offense surprisingly bottomed out in 2021, averaging 24.5 points a game and 5.3 yards per play in ACC contests. High expectations surrounded Uiagalelei after strong performances against Boston College and Notre Dame in ’20, but he connected on 55.6 percent of his throws for 2,246 yards and just nine touchdowns.
Key Spring Storylines: Getting the offense back on track is priority No. 1 for Clemson this spring. Uiagalelei isn’t to blame for all of the problems last year, but he has to play better. If he doesn’t, true freshman Cade Klubnik will get a shot under center.
Projected 2022 Starter: Jordan Travis
Travis has showed marked improvement under coach Mike Norvell. In the four games where Travis didn’t start last year, Florida State managed only 17 points a contest. In the other eight, the Seminoles averaged 29.1. The Florida native threw for 1,539 yards and 15 touchdowns and added 535 yards and seven scores on the ground.
Key Spring Storylines: Travis should be in the mix for All-ACC honors this year. Also, depth behind him has improved with the arrival of true freshman AJ Duffy.
Projected 2022 Starter: Malik Cunningham
The Cardinals are set at quarterback with Cunningham returning after a prolific ’21 season. The Alabama native threw for 2,941 yards and 19 touchdowns to six picks and ran for 1,034 yards and 20 scores. Cunningham’s 1,034 rushing yards were the most by a quarterback in ’21, while his 305.8 total yards a game ranked 14th nationally.
Key Spring Storylines: Not much. Cunningham ranks among the ACC’s top quarterbacks for ’22, and Evan Conley returns as the backup.
Projected 2022 Starter: Devin Leary
Leary’s 2021 season largely went under the radar, but his emergence is a big reason why NC State can contend for the ACC title in ’22. The New Jersey native totaled 3,433 passing yards and 35 touchdowns to just five picks in 12 games. Also, his quarterback rating in ACC games was good enough (163.1) for second in the conference.
Key Spring Storylines: NC State has to patch a few concerns up front and replace its top two running backs, but all signs point to another big season from Leary.
Projected 2022 Starter: Garrett Shrader
Shrader took over the starting job in the fourth game of 2021 and never relinquished the No. 1 spot. The Mississippi State transfer was inconsistent through the air (52.6 percent) and posted four starts under 100 passing yards. However, Shrader’s value came on the ground, as he ran for 781 yards and 14 scores.
Key Spring Storylines: New play-caller Robert Anae should be a good fit for Shrader’s skill set. Although the North Carolina native needs to show improvement through the air, he should be set as the No. 1 quarterback going into ’22. Michigan transfer Dan Villari should work as the No. 2 option.
Projected 2022 Starter: Sam Hartman
En route to leading Wake Forest to the ACC title game, Hartman piloted the offense to an average of 41 points a game in ’21 and threw for 4,228 yards and 39 touchdowns. The North Carolina native added 363 yards and 11 scores on the ground and ranked third in the ACC in total offense a game (327.9).
Key Spring Storylines: Hartman earned second-team All-ACC honors last year and it’s safe to assume he will be near (or at) the top of the quarterback rankings in ’22.
Projected 2022 Starter: Riley Leonard
New coach Mike Elko heads into his first spring with a wide-open battle at quarterback. Last year’s starter Gunnar Holmberg transferred to FIU, leaving Leonard, Jordan Moore and Luca Diamont to battle for the job. Leonard connected on 37 of 62 throws for 381 yards and a touchdown as Holmberg’s backup in ’21.
Key Spring Storylines: Leonard gets the nod here, but Diamont and Moore can’t be counted out of the mix. This spring will provide better insight into the battle.
Projected 2022 Starter: Jeff Sims
After three consecutive three-win seasons, coach Geoff Collins enters ’22 on the hot seat. Getting better play from the quarterback position would help Collins’ job security, and the Yellow Jackets have two proven options to lean on this fall. Sims passed for 1,468 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran for 371 yards and four scores but needs to show more overall consistency. Akron transfer Zach Gibson will push Sims for the starting nod after throwing for 1,262 yards and 10 touchdowns in ’21.
Key Spring Storylines: Can Sims put everything together and deliver a huge junior year? Or will Gibson unseat him for the job?
Projected 2022 Starter: Tyler Van Dyke
Van Dyke was pressed into the starting job after a season-ending injury to D’Eriq King in 2021. After a few ups and downs early on, Van Dyke emerged as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks by throwing for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns to six picks. He also averaged nine yards per attempt and threw for over 300 yards in each of his last six games.
Key Spring Storylines: Van Dyke will have to adapt to new play-caller Josh Gattis, but he should push for All-ACC honors and the top spot among QBs in the conference this year.
Projected 2022 Starter: Drake Maye
North Carolina’s hopes of contending for the Coastal Division title will hinge on how well the team can replace Sam Howell. Jacolby Criswell (21 attempts) worked as Howell’s backup last season, but all eyes in spring ball will be on the development of Maye. The North Carolina native ranked as the No. 56 prospect in the ’21 signing class and played in four games last year, completing seven passes for 89 yards and adding 62 on the ground.
Key Spring Storylines: Can Maye or Criswell claim a clear hold on the No. 1 spot this spring?
Projected 2022 Starter: Kedon Slovis
Kenny Pickett leaves big shoes to fill in the Steel City after throwing for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns en route to leading Pitt to an ACC title and being a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2021. A three-man competition is set to unfold this offseason, as Slovis (USC transfer) will battle Davis Beville and Nick Patti for the No. 1 spot.
Key Spring Storylines: Is there any separation here this spring? Slovis is the most talented of the options but regressed after a strong freshman season at USC. Beville and Patti combined for 41 pass attempts in ’21.
Projected 2022 Starter: Brennan Armstrong
New coach Tony Elliott inherits one of the ACC’s top signal-callers for his debut in Charlottesville. Armstrong led the ACC in total offense per game (427.3), averaged 7.9 yards per play and accounted for 40 overall scores.
Key Spring Storylines: Just how valuable is Armstrong? Consider this: He accounted for 40 of Virginia’s 52 offensive touchdowns last year. Armstrong ranks near the top of the ACC in the quarterback power rankings, but he will have to mesh with Elliott’s scheme.
Projected 2022 Starter: Grant Wells
Virginia Tech needed more overall production from its quarterback in 2022, but the position became a greater concern once Braxton Burmeister decided to transfer. New coach Brent Pry hit the portal for help, landing Wells (Marshall) and Jason Brown (South Carolina). Wells showed promise in two years with the Thundering Herd, throwing for 5,626 yards and 34 touchdowns over 23 games in that span.
Key Spring Storylines: Wells is listed as the projected starter here, but Brown is squarely in the mix. Is there any separation at this position this spring?
Pre-Spring, Way-too-Early ACC QB Rankings for 2022
1. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
Hartman’s return gives Wake Forest an excellent chance to repeat as Atlantic Division champs.
2. Tyler Van Dyke, Miami
Van Dyke can only get better after a strong debut in ’21.
3. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
How will Armstrong mesh with new coach Tony Elliott’s offense?
4. Devin Leary, NC State
Leary ranked second in the ACC (conference-only games) in quarterback rating (163.1) and completion percentage (65.6) last year.
5. Malik Cunningham, Louisville
Cunningham led all ACC players by averaging 8.4 yards per play in conference games last fall.
6. Jordan Travis, Florida State
Travis is a quarterback on the rise and is poised for his best season in Tallahassee.
7. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
A return to full strength should help Jurkovec return to his ’20 form (270.8 total yards a game).
8. Kedon Slovis, Pittsburgh
Slovis has to rebound after two uneven seasons at USC, but the supporting cast is in place for a strong year.
9. DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson
Not everything was Uiagalelei’s fault last season, but the Tigers need him to improve in ’22.
10. Drake Maye, North Carolina
This might be a little high for the redshirt freshman. However, the talent (and offensive scheme) are there for a big season.
11. Garrett Shrader, Syracuse
Shrader’s rushing ability is valuable to pair with Sean Tucker in the backfield but improvement is needed through the air after completing only 51.3 percent of throws in ACC games.
12. Grant Wells, Virginia Tech
Wells has to cut down on the interceptions (22 in two years at Marshall) to win a tight battle with Jason Brown.
13. Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech
Will Sims take a big step forward? Or will Zach Gibson win the job?
14. Riley Leonard, Duke
New coach Mike Elko should have a wide-open battle at quarterback this spring.
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