JOHNSON: Quarterback Questions Abound in ACC

Quarterback has unquestionably become the most important position on the field for a college team, and seven ACC teams, including NC State, will be breaking in a new starting quarterback this fall.

Quarterback has unquestionably become the most important position on the field for a college team.

And yet, when the ACC preseason poll was released it almost seemed like that rule no longer applied. Of the top seven teams in the poll, six will be breaking in new quarterbacks. Of teams in the bottom five, just one will be facing the challenge of changing signal-callers.

The names of the departed is pretty daunting - Russell Wilson, Tyrod Taylor, Joshua Nesbitt, and Christian Ponder. Seven different ACC teams are replacing an incumbent starter this fall – many of them multi-year starters that had racked up plenty of statistics and honors over their careers. But for once the talent around the quarterback seems to matter more than the actual quarterback.

Exactly three quarterbacks return to the ACC this year with more than 10 starts under their belts. Jacory Harris at Miami is by far the most experienced returning signal-caller, a senior who has started since his freshman season. With that being said, he is even in a quarterback battle right now with sophomore Stephen Morris, who replaced Harris at times last year.

But after Harris the most experienced quarterback in the league is Duke's Sean Renfree, he of 11 career starts. The final player on the list is Maryland's Danny O'Brien, who started the final 10 games of the 2010 season and ran away with ACC Rookie of the Year honors.

"It's a slight advantage." O'Brien said. "You can't just say 'I'm experienced' so we're gonna be good. There's no substitute for experience though.

"If you can get consistent play at quarterback your going to have a good chance to win it, and I think experience plays into that."

Two other teams return starters who secured jobs during the 2010 season. Tanner Price played in all but two games as a freshman for Wake Forest but threw more interceptions than touchdowns while Chase Rettig started the final eight games of 2010 for Boston College and led them to a 5-3 record over that span.

"You can see it – he's taking control of the huddle. He's more confident." All-ACC running back Montel Harris said of Rettig. "I think we have a chance to be a great offense just because of the quarterback position maturing and getting older."

Everyone else is essentially starting from scratch. Yes, Florida State's E.J. Manuel and Georgia Tech's Tevin Washington got some trial-by-fire experience last season but neither spent more than a handful of games as the starting quarterback. Manuel, who oddly was tabbed preseason first-team All-ACC over O'Brien and Renfree, has more career interceptions (10) than touchdowns (6). Washington started Tech's final four games, leading them to a 1-3 record while completing 22-of-51 passes.

Now as the starter going into fall camp, they'll be facing new challenges and new expectations.

"Being a backup quarterback, you have to be humble enough to be the backup but prepare like you'll be the starter," Georgia Tech running back Roddy Jones said. "But coming in as the starter you are the guy everyone rallies around and you are the guy everyone looks to.

"In a lot of ways that's easier because you know what to expect and everything you do is going to be watched."

As much confidence as teams have in the E.J. Manuels and Mike Glennons, no one is sure which teams will either surpass or fail to live up to expectations.

Just take a look at 2010 for evidence. Miami was a trendy pick to win the ACC last year with Jacory Harris receiving even some Heisman buzz entering the season opener. Neither ever happened. Maryland was picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division and Danny O'Brien didn't even enter the year as the starter. His emergence led to the Terps winning nine games and nearly playing its way into the ACC title game.

The unknown quantities at quarterback make for a very uncertain fall across the ACC.

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