Ranking the ACC's signal-callers for 2020
The ACC is one of the deepest conferences for quarterback talent in college football for 2020. The top of the league features Heisman frontrunner Trevor Lawrence at Clemson, with Sam Howell at North Carolina at No. 2. Houston transfer D'Eriq King should solidify Miami's quarterback spot this fall, while Louisville's Micale Cunningham, Virginia Tech's Hendon Hooker and Duke's Chase Brice are breakout candidates for 2020. Additionally, with Notre Dame playing a full ACC slate this season, Ian Book counts in these rankings, giving the conference three of the nation's top 10 quarterbacks.
Ranking the quarterbacks by conference or nationally is no easy task. To help compile the rankings, there was some projection involved for 2020. This was not a ranking of quarterbacks only based on accomplishments so far or pro potential. All factors — pure talent, supporting cast, having a clear hold on the No. 1 position, previous production, 2020 projection and scheme changes (just to name a few) — were considered and projected to rank the quarterbacks in the ACC for 2020.
Ranking ACC Quarterbacks for 2020
15. James Graham, Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech is trending in the right direction under coach Geoff Collins and continued development from the team’s quarterbacks would speed up the rebuilding process. Graham played in three games as a freshman in 2018 and won the starting job for the final eight contests in ’19. The Georgia native guided the program to both of its wins in ACC play (Miami and NC State) and ended the year with 1,164 passing yards and 12 touchdowns to seven picks. Graham’s mobility was also on display with 290 rushing yards and three scores. The sophomore has to improve on his completion percentage (45.1) and touted incoming freshman Jeff Sims could push for time this fall.
14 Devin Leary, NC State
Ryan Finley’s departure created a significant void under center for the Wolfpack last fall. Three different players made starts, with Leary getting the final five of the 2019 season. As expected, Leary had his share of ups and downs in his first year of playing time in Raleigh. The New Jersey native (a four-star recruit in the 2018 class) threw for 1,219 yards and eight touchdowns to five picks through eight overall appearances. Leary’s best overall performance came at Boston College (259 yards and three scores), but he finished the year with just 98 yards on seven completions against North Carolina. Improving his completion percentage (48.1) is a priority under new play-caller Tim Beck.
13. Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
New coach Jeff Hafley is a good hire for Boston College, and his debut in Chestnut Hill got a boost with Jurkovec awarded immediate eligibility after transferring from Notre Dame. Dennis Grosel took over after a season-ending injury to Anthony Brown in 2019 and connected on 48.4 percent of his passes and will battle again for the job. Jurkovec ranked as a four-star prospect (No. 83 overall by the 247Sports Composite) in the 2018 class. While in South Bend, Jurkovec completed 12 of 17 passes for 222 yards and two scores. The Pennsylvania native also ran for 139 yards in that span. Jurkovec is talented, will be working behind one of the ACC’s top offensive lines and has a good supporting cast at his disposal. Outplaying this ranking is easily within reach.
12. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
Replacing Bryce Perkins won’t be easy for Virginia this fall. Last year, the former signal-caller accounted for 79.1 percent of the total offense generated by the Cavaliers. Armstrong worked as the backup to Perkins over the last two seasons and connected on 17 of 25 passes for 258 yards and two touchdown tosses. He also added 93 yards over 16 carries in that span. Coach Bronco Mendenhall also added competition this spring with the arrival of Mississippi State transfer Keytaon Thompson. The Louisiana native is experienced (20 games) and mobile (672 yards) but connected on just 48 percent of his throws.
11. Chase Brice, Duke
With Trevor Lawrence entrenched as the starter for Clemson, Brice transferred to Duke for a chance to start right away. An opportunity to start at Duke is a good landing spot considering coach David Cutcliffe is among the best in college football at developing quarterbacks. Brice was the hero of Clemson’s 2018 win over Syracuse and played well in 22 overall appearances. The Georgia native threw for 896 yards and nine touchdowns and connected on 60.5 percent of his passes. Brice has an experienced offensive line to provide protection, but he will need a couple of weapons to emerge at receiver to team with Jalon Calhoun and tight end Noah Gray for the offense to take off in 2020.
10. Tommy DeVito, Syracuse
DeVito was expected to deliver a breakout year in replacing Eric Dungey in coach Dino Babers’ high-powered offense. However, the Syracuse offense struggled to put the right pieces into place, especially up front with a line that allowed 50 sacks in 2019. DeVito ended his first season as the starter with 2,360 passing yards and 19 touchdowns to only five picks. The New Jersey native didn’t throw an interception over his final seven contests and connected on seven throws of 50 yards or more. With better protection up front, DeVito could deliver the breakout season most anticipated in 2019.
9. James Blackman, Florida State
Looking for the most-improved quarterback in the ACC this fall? Tallahassee is the likely place to look. New coach Mike Norvell arrives at Florida State after producing high-powered offenses at Memphis and as the coordinator at Arizona State. Blackman was pressed into action as a true freshman after Deondre Francois suffered a season-ending injury in the opener against Alabama. Despite playing before he was probably ready to start, Blackman played well in 12 appearances, throwing for 2,230 yards and 19 touchdowns to 11 picks. Francois’ returned in 2018 and Blackman used a redshirt year but played in four contests, including a start against NC State. He returned to the full-time starting role last season and passed for 2,339 yards and 17 touchdowns. Blackman also tied for second among ACC quarterbacks with eight completions of 50 or more yards.
8. Kenny Pickett, Pitt
Combine one of the ACC’s top defenses with a senior quarterback in Pickett and it’s easy to see why Pitt is going to be a tough out for the rest of the conference in 2020. Under first-year play-caller Mark Whipple in 2019, Pickett passed for a career-high 3,098 yards and connected on 61.6 percent of his throws. While Pickett accounted for only 13 touchdown passes, his 289 completions were the most for a single-season in Pitt history, and he also finished the year trending up with 300 or more passing yards in three out of the final four contests.
7. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
Jamie Newman’s decision to transfer to Georgia left Hartman as the unquestioned starter for 2020. The North Carolina native is only a sophomore, but he’s played in a lot of games since arriving on campus in 2018. Hartman won the starting job as a true freshman that fall and played well, throwing for 1,984 yards and 16 touchdowns to eight picks. He also added 275 more yards and two scores on the ground. Hartman played in four games (one start) last season and posted two 300-yard performances. Sage Surratt’s decision to enter the NFL Draft has left a void at receiver, but Hartman has played well in his first two years on campus and should build on that start in 2020.
6. Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech
Justin Fuente’s decision to switch to Hooker in early October paid dividends. Virginia Tech finished 6-2 over his eight starts and averaged 36 points a game in that span. Hooker’s mobility (356 yards) added some punch to the rushing attack, as he also connected on 61.1 percent of his throws for 1,555 yards and 13 touchdowns. The North Carolina native tossed only two picks and threw for 311 yards against rival Virginia. Hooker will be pushed by Braxton Burmeister and Quincy Patterson for playing time this fall, but he should take a step forward in his development as the starter in 2020.
5. Micale Cunningham, Louisville
Cunningham is a rising star and a quarterback that’s poised to build off a promising 2019 season. The Alabama native played in 10 games (with three starts) as a redshirt freshman in 2018 but won the starting job (11 starts) last fall. Cunningham showcased his big-play ability by averaging 11.5 yards per attempt and finished third among ACC quarterbacks with 13 completions of 40 yards or more. In 12 overall appearances, Cunningham threw for 2,065 yards and ended the year with just five picks over 179 attempts. In addition to his success through the air, Cunningham ran for 482 yards and six scores. Coach Scott Satterfield should push Cunningham’s game to another level this fall.
4. D’Eriq King, Miami
King is one of the ACC’s most intriguing players to watch in 2020. Miami’s offense averaged only 25.7 points a game last season, cycled through a couple of different quarterbacks and struggled mightily in the trenches. Second-year coach Manny Diaz is hoping an offseason reset fixes those problems. New play-caller Rhett Lashlee will implement a spread attack that should work to King’s strengths, and the arrival of fellow Houston transfer Jarrid Williams could help stabilize the line. After playing four games under first-year coach Dana Holgorsen, King took a redshirt season and eventually decided to transfer to Miami. The Texas native has showcased dynamic playmaking ability during his career, including a season of 50 total touchdowns in 2018. The competition will be tougher in the ACC, but King is certainly up to the task.
Related: ACC Football Predictions for 2020
3. Ian Book, Notre Dame
Notre Dame’s one-year, full-time membership in the ACC will be an interesting storyline to watch. And with Book back for his senior year, there’s a good chance he can lead the Fighting Irish to an appearance in the conference title game. The steady senior threw for 34 touchdowns (second-most for a single year in school history) and 3,034 yards over 399 attempts last fall. Additionally, Book tossed only six picks and added 546 yards and four scores on the ground. Book was the first quarterback in Notre Dame school history to throw for at least 2,500 yards and 30 touchdowns and run for 500 yards in a single season. He heads into the 2020 season with 57 career touchdown passes.
2. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Howell was the breakout star of the ACC last season and has already earned a spot among college football’s top quarterbacks going into 2020. Over 13 starts, Howell torched opposing defenses for 3,641 yards and 38 touchdowns to just seven picks – as a true freshman. Howell connected on 61.4 percent of his passes and led all ACC quarterbacks with 17 completions of 40 yards or more. With a full offseason to develop under coordinator Phil Longo, here’s a scary thought for the rest of the ACC: Howell is going to be even better this fall and should rank among the top 10 players in the nation.
Related: Ranking the ACC's Coaches for 2020
1. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
There’s no debate at the top of the ACC and national quarterback rankings for 2020. Lawrence easily takes the top spot in both and is on track to be the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. The Georgia native guided Clemson to the national title behind a terrific freshman campaign (3,280 yards and 30 TDs) as a freshman and shook off a slow start in 2019 to lead the program back to the title game in 2019. Lawrence started all 15 games for the Tigers last season, throwing for 3,665 yards and 36 scores. Additionally, he averaged a healthy nine yards per attempt and did not throw an interception over the team’s final eight contests.
Podcast: Breaking Down College Football's QB Rankings for 2020