Spring football is coming to a close around the nation and around the Atlantic Coast Conference. From here until August there really isn’t much to hang your hat on if you’re a college football fan. Sure the occasional commitment, transfer, or leakage of a 20-second practice clip is always welcomed. But this is preview time. This is when the hype train has the coal stocked into the furnace. So let’s begin our Fall 2021 previews with positional power rankings.
Today we begin with the most important position on the gridiron, the quarterback. Oh by the way, Trevor Lawrence is now playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars, so don’t skip over number one it’s finally up for grabs again.
- Sam Howell, North Carolina
> The rising junior has single-handedly flipped the trajectory of the Tar Heels football program. He followed up an All-American caliber freshman campaign with a big sophomore season.
> Howell led the ACC in passing yards (3,586) and passing touchdowns (30). That was during a shortened 2020 season as well. The North Carolina native also just received the 3rd highest drafted grade from Pro Football Focus (OU’s Spencer Rattler 92.5, CCU’s Grayson Mccall 92.4) with a score of 92.3. He’s also the only QB in ACC history that has thrown 68 TDs through their sophomore season.
- D’Eriq King, Miami
> King is a bit of a question mark heading into the fall. The rising sixth year season suffered a torn ACL in the Cheeze-It Bowl vs Oklahoma State and will rehab all the way up to fall camp. Still, on paper King is the second best signal caller in the conference.
> The former Houston Cougar is the most electric dual threat in the conference. Last season King passed for 2,573 yards with just a 22-5 TD/INT ratio. On the ground, he added another 520 yards and four scores. The Texas native received the 4th highest draft grade from Pro Football Focus at 90.6, so the scouts even believe he has potential to play in the NFL.
- DJ Uiagalelei, Clemson
> We’ll just say DJ because this article would take 3 hours if we used his last name repeatedly. By the way it’s pretty fun to say. DJ is a former 5-star recruit from high school powerhouse St. John Bosco out in California. He stepped up for Trevor Lawrence last season when the #1 pick was out due to COVID protocols.
> The sample size is relatively small, but the 6-4, 250 pound gunslinger has all the tools to take the reins of the Tiger offense. The rising sophomore started against Boston College and Notre Dame. Against the Eagles, DJ went 30/41 for 342 yards and 2 touchdowns in a narrow Clemson win. Against the Fighting Irish, DJ went 29/44 for 439 yards and 2 touchdown tosses. He’s proven he can play at this level and shredded some of the more respected defensive units the ACC has to offer.
- Phil Jurkovec, Boston College
> Jurkovec stepped into Jeff Hafley’s offense in year one and was an instant impact. The Notre Dame transfer finished 6th in the conference with 2,558 passing yards and 17 touchdown throws. What’s funny is he actually just edged out Ian Book who finished 7th in touchdowns, but third in yards. The former blue chip recruit should have the offense rolling once again in 2021.
- McKenzie Milton, Florida State
> Milton is the biggest unknown entering the fall. Yes it’s the former UCF quarterback that led the Golden Knights to a perfect season in 2017 and a “national championship.” He tore his ACL in ‘18 and missed all of the’19 and ‘20 seasons rehabbing. He looked impressive in the spring game showcasing his ability to make pinpoint throws and run away from pressure. If he’s anything close to what he was four years ago, the Seminoles will have their best quarterback since Jameis Winston.
- Malik Cunningham, Louisville
> Another quarterback that tore up SU last season in a 30-0 win. Cunningham quietly put together a very impressive season. He finished 4th in the ACC 2,617 yards with a 64% completion percentage (7th), and 20/12 TD-INT. Much like King, he’s also a threat on the ground as he picked up 609 more yards there and added 7 more touchdowns for good measure. Year 3 under Scott Satterfield should be fun to watch, but the Cardinals needs to replace production at running back and receiver, especially.
- Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh
> Pickett is just the solid player that gets no hype because he’s overshadowed by other great talents in the conference. He’s been an electrifying dual threat qb since he was a freshman. He shredded Syracuse in the 21-10 win early in the season. Speaking of 2020, Pickett finished 7th in passing yards with 2,408, but he needs to improve on his 13-9 TD/INT ratio for the Panthers and himself to take the next step.
- Sam Hartman, Wake Forest
> Hartman is another solid leader for the Demon Deacons. He’ll have to find new go-to’s on the outside with Sage Surratt playing professionally now. In nine games of action last year, the former “QB1” star on the Netflix show threw for 2,224 yards, with 13 TD’s and 5 picks.
- Brennan Armstrong, Virginia
> This might be a player Syracuse fans aren’t familiar with because the Orange typically don’t meet the Cavaliers in the regular season. Fun facts: he’s a ginger, left-handed, and at one point wore the number 98 (as a quarterback). He finished near the bottom of the conference statistically as he’s trying to fill the fat void left by the graduation of Bryce Perkins in 2019. He’s another dual-threat talent that passed for over 2,000 yards and ran for over 500. Keep an eye on Armstrong next season, he could be the key to the Cavs making noise.
- Braxton Burmeister, Virginia Tech
> Hendon Hooker is now a Tennessee Volunteer so this is Burmeister’s job to lose. The Oregon transfer went 3-1 last season as a starter. The former 4-star recruit totaled 687 yards with a pair of passing touchdowns, with 182 yards and two more scores on the ground. SU plays the Hokies this season and by then Burmeister should be more than broken in to the 2021 season as Head Coach Justin Fuenete may be coaching for his job.
- Gunnar Holmberg, Duke
> Chase Brice is out the door, so it’s now presumably Holmberg’s job. The rising redshirt-junior has played sparingly in his three seasons as a Blue Devil. He’s played in seven total games and totaled a meager 189 yards of total offense. We’ll see if quarterback whisperer David Cutcliffe can work some magic. Also keep an eye out for redshirt-freshman Luca Diamont.
- Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech
> These last three-four spots are pretty volatile, but this is all about upside. Sims struggled last season in his first year playing collegiate ball. That’s expected from a young player who’s thrown into the fire. Sims finished 12th in the ACC with over 1,800 passing yards and 13 touchdowns and interceptions. On the ground he had just under 500 yards and 6 more touchdowns. That’s the thing with Sims, he can hurt you in so many ways. If he can develop as a passer, the Yellow Jackets can be dangerous in the future. I would go as far to say he could have a Lamar Jackson-esque senior season if he continues on the upward trajectory.
- Tommy DeVito, Syracuse
> At this point, it’s anyone’s guess who trots out for the opening offensive possession for the Orange when they travel to Athens, Ohio to take on the Bobcats. DeVito has yet to have that breakout season everyone is waiting for. To put this into perspective, the former four-star recruit has passed for 3,478 yards for his career with 27 touchdowns-10 interceptions. Sam Howell put up those numbers in each of his first two seasons at UNC…
> We’re not going to sit here and predict a breakout year because well, there’s nothing to support that argument. So this #13 spot belongs to whoever starts for the Orange in the fall. That fact that DeVito is way down at 13 is fitting because it’s the number he wears, but it’s not a good look because he’s been a starting quarterback in the ACC for the better part of two seasons.
- Ben Finley, NC State
> Rounding out the power rankings is Finley. He’s the younger brother of Ryan Finley who is also a former Wolfpack signal caller. The Arizona native came off the bench last season and played 33 snaps and threw for one touchdown and one interception. With Bailey Hockman now at Middle Tennessee State via the transfer portal, this could be Finley’s job.
Can’t lie, had Jack Coan slotted at #7 but then the realization came that Notre Dame is longer in the ACC (for football). Additionally, there were only 13 quarterbacks on the original list because Florida State didn’t have a passer even qualify for the top 15. Milton is a HUGE upgrade for the Seminoles, even if he’s not as healthy as he was in UCF’s magical 2017 season.
As you can see the quarterback talent in the ACC is pretty spread out, but the elite players are at the top and there’s a steep decline once you get past the top 8. What’s funny is that the quarterback power rankings may actually reflect how the ACC standings may look come December later this year. We’ll continue these pre-season power rankings next week with the running backs so stay tuned.