Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

First rate: Quarterbacks

There are only a few established quarterbacks on Notre Dame’s 2017 schedule, although there’s no doubt who heads the list among Irish opponents.

Our 7th annual First-Rate series begins with the quarterbacks. The positions are ranked in descending order. The cumulative scores of 10 categories – along with coaching and schedules -- will determine the talent ranking.

13) Temple (Logan Marchi/Frankie Nutile/Anthony Russo/Todd Centeio)
For the first time since 2013, Temple will have a new full-time starter at quarterback following the departure of Phillip Walker, who not only threw for more than 10,000 yards and 74 touchdowns in his college career, but helped lead the Owls to 20 victories the last two seasons.

New offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude arrives from Coastal Carolina with a bunch of question marks at quarterback. Marchi (six career passes) and Nutile (five career passes) are the prospects returning at quarterback while freshmen Russo and Centeio will benefit from a wide-open depth chart. Russo could emerge at the top of the depth chart.

12) Boston College (Darius Wade/Anthony Brown)
Patrick Towles is gone from the run-oriented Boston College attack, putting the football in the hands of Wade, who started the first three games of the ’15 before suffering a season-ending injury against Florida State. Wade is the safe choice, but Brown – a dual threat – has the most upside.

11) Navy (Zach Abey/Garret Lewis)
Abey started the last two games of the ’16 season after taking over for Will Worth in the AAC championship game against Temple when Worth suffered a broken foot. Abey, a sturdy 6-foot-2, 212-pounder, struggled in the 21-17 loss to Army. He performed much better against Louisiana Tech in the Armed Forces Bowl (a 48-45 Louisiana Tech victory) when he passed for 159 yards and rushed for 114.

10) Miami (Malik Rosier/Evan Shirreffs/N’Kosi Perry/Cade Weldon)
The decision by Brad Kaaya to bypass his final year of eligibility with the Hurricanes has left a hole at the quarterback position. Rosier, a junior, has one career start (vs. Duke in 2015). He’s completed 31-of-61 for 339 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Shirreffs is a 6-foot-5 red-shirt sophomore. If a young player emerges, it could be four-star freshman Perry.
 
9) Michigan State (Brian Lewerke/Damian Terry/Messiah deWeaver)
Everything about last year was a struggle for the Spartans, including the quarterback position. Lewerke took over for Tyler O’Connor late in the season, showing a good arm, quick feet and knowledge of the offense. Lewerke started two games before suffering a broken leg in a late-October clash with Michigan.

8) Wake Forest (Kendall Hinton/John Wolford)
Wolford has taken the majority of the snaps at quarterback for Wake Forest the last three seasons, throwing for more than 5,600 yards. But his propensity for turning the football over (30-to-35 touchdown-to-interception ratio) cost him his job to the athletic Hinton, who emerged as the starter in ’16.

When Hinton suffered a knee injury that caused him to miss the last 10 games, Wolford took control of the reins once gain. Hinton still has some growing to do with a career 52.0 completion percentage and a 4-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, but he is the projected starter.

7) Notre Dame (Brandon Wimbush/Ian Book/Avery Davis)
This ranking is based upon previous playing experience since Wimbush has thrown just five passes at Notre Dame, all of which came in ’15 prior to a red-shirt season in ’16. Wimbush – who rushed for 92 yards, including a 58-yard score at Pittsburgh -- has the skills to shoot the Irish into the upper one-third on this chart if he can adapt quickly with a bevy of big receivers and his running ability.

6) North Carolina (Brandon Harris/Nathan Elliott)
The No. 2 pick in the NFL draft, Mitchell Trubisky, is gone, as are most of North Carolina’s skill-position weapons from the past couple years. With just nine career pass attempts by Elliott, the Tar Heels welcomed former LSU signalcaller Harris into the fold.

Harris, a dual threat who lost his job in Baton Rouge, threw for 2,158 yards, 13 touchdowns and six interceptions in ’15. He boasted a respectable 20-to-10 interception-to-touchdown ratio during his time at LSU.

5) Miami (Ohio) (Gus Ragland/Billy Bahl)
Talk about a rags to riches story. Ragland replaced Bahl as the starter after the Redhawks opened 0-6 with Bahl completing less than 45 percent of his passes. Ragland started the last seven games, leading Miami (Ohio) to six straight victories to close the regular season before the Redhawks fell to Mississippi State in the St. Petersburg Bowl, 17-16.

Ragland threw for 1,537 yards and 17 touchdowns in ’16 with just one interception. Miami (Ohio) averaged nearly 30 points per game with Ragland at quarterback after managing just 17 points per game in the first six losses.

4) Stanford (Keller Chryst/Ryan Burns/K.J. Costello/Davis Mills)
After a year of experimentation at quarterback – and another 10-victory season – the Cardinal may not be any closer to knowing who their starting quarterback will be in ’17. But at least Stanford has two signalcallers with a fair amount of experience under their belts after Burns gave way to Chryst down the stretch.

Burns completed 61.4 percent of his passes for 1,151 yards, but had a poor 5-to-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Chryst completed just 56.6 percent of his passes while throwing for 905 yards with 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s coming off a knee injury in the Sun Bowl, however, and may not be 100 percent when the season opens in Sydney, Australia on Aug. 26.

3) N.C. State (Ryan Finley/Jalan McClendon)
Finley, the graduate transfer from Boise State, threw for 3,059 yards, 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing 60.4 percent of his passes in his first season in Raleigh. His numbers would have been even better had the Wolfpack not played Notre Dame in a hurricane that limited Finley to just five completions for 27 yards.

McClendon adds the running dimension with a 10-carry, 56-yard effort against Notre Dame. Together, this is a versatile one-two punch.

2) Georgia (Jacob Eason, Jake Fromm)
Eason, a ballyhooed freshman in ’16 (and the son of former Irish receiver Tony Eason), threw for 2,430 yards and 16 touchdowns while completing 55.1 percent with eight interceptions. But the offense averaged just 24.5 points per game (102nd nationally), which wasn’t all on Eason’s shoulders.

Some think another highly-touted signalcaller, the freshman Fromm, could push Eason for the starting job. Either way, the Bulldogs have a bright future moving forward with this duo.

1) USC (Sam Darnold/Matt Fink/Jack Sears)
Darnold makes the first of 10 first-rate segments a slam-dunk for the No. 1 choice. After taking over for Max Browne in Game 4 against Utah – a loss that dropped the Trojans to 1-3 – Darnold went 9-1 as the starter with 3,086 yards passing, 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Darnold peaked in the 52-49 shootout victory over Penn State in the Rose Bowl when he threw for 453 yards and five touchdowns. Darnold’s maneuverability in the pocket also allowed him to be sacked just six times.

The loss of Browne, who transferred to Pittsburgh, could be significant if something happens to Darnold. Fink is a red-shirt freshman, and Sears, who hails from the same high school as Darnold, is a early-entry freshman.


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