What if top-caliber quarterbacks such as Clemson’s Tajh Boyd and Florida State’s Jameis Winston are all that have been missing from the ACC’s quest to return to football relevance?
Will an increase in quarterback quality equal a return to the BCS National Championship Game for the first time since 2001?
Though the ACC has some heavy hitters at the top of its quarterback depth chart in 2013, gauging its overall strength at the position requires a more sweeping review.
ACC Quarterbacks, From Top to Bottom
When posed the question, “Who are the best quarterbacks in the ACC?” it might be hard to come up with names beyond Boyd, Winston, Miami’s Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas.
But three weeks into the season, there is more to like than just the familiar faces.
Using ESPN's passer ratings as the measuring stick, here in rank order are the ACC quarterbacks who have made a start in 2013.
|Jameis Winston||Florida State||234.8|
|Vad Lee||Georgia Tech||219.2|
|Chase Rettig||Boston College||137.4|
|Tanner Price||Wake Forest||129.1|
|Bryn Renner||North Carolina||127.8|
|Pete Thomas||N.C. State||121.9|
|Stephen Morris||Miami (Fla.)||115.3|
|Logan Thomas||Virginia Tech||92.3|
Winston tops the ACC with a rating of 234.8 through two games. Next comes Syracuse’s new starter, sophomore Terrel Hunt, with a 231.9 rating in the win over FCS Wagner State.
The only other quarterback above 200 is Georgia Tech’s Vad Lee, with a 219.2 in wins over FCS Elon and Duke. It’s important to remember that the Yellow Jackets run the option and that Lee has only thrown 27 passes.
Next up is Maryland’s C.J. Brown, who has a healthy 187.4 via wins over Florida International, Old Dominion and at UConn. Brown leads the ACC with 833 yards passing.
With a full game in the win over Georgia and limited participation in the contest with FCS South Carolina State, Clemson’s Boyd is next at 148.6.
After Boyd comes a group of guys who represent the middle of the pack: Tom Savage from Pitt, Chase Rettig from Boston College and Brandon Connette from Duke. Connette replaced the injured Anthony Boone in Week 2.
With a completion percentage of 58.8, next is senior Tanner Price from Wake Forest. He suffered losses to Boston College and Louisiana-Monroe and scored a win over FCS Presbyterian.
After this comes North Carolina’s Bryn Renner at 127.9. Renner and the Tar Heels have faced South Carolina’s stingy defense and then a more hospitable Middle Tennessee.
N.C. State’s Pete Thomas—who transferred from Colorado State—is next at 121.9. Thomas and the Wolfpack are 2-0, but he’s thrown zero touchdowns and three interceptions in his first 58 attempts.
Next is Syracuse’s Drew Allen, who earned a 101.3 rating in the Orange’s first two games before being replaced by Terrel Hunt.
The bottom of the chart includes Miami’s Morris, Virginia Tech’s Thomas and Virginia’s David Watford. Low lights for this group are Morris’ 52 completion percentage, Thomas’ even more dismal 47 percent and Watford’s one touchdown and four interceptions in 73 attempts.
So, how does this group stack up with the quarterbacks from the other major conferences?
The Big 12
Often considered “the” passing league, the Big 12—through three weeks—is led by Baylor’s Bryce Petty with a 249.5 passer rating, fueled by an 80 percent completion rate.
Other top dogs in the Big 12 are Oklahoma’s Blake Bell, who has a 188.6 in one big win over Tulsa, and Texas’ David Ash, who has a 168.9.
The quarterbacks that hurt the Big 12’s power ranking are Kansas’ Jake Heaps (a transfer from BYU), who has completed 48 percent of his passes, and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, who has a completion percentage of 44 in the Sooners’ first two games and a 94.6 rating.
The Big Ten
Leading the Big Ten is Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld, who has thrown for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning him a passer rating of 195.3.
At the bottom are Minnesota’s Philip Nelson, who has thrown one touchdown and two picks in three games and Michigan State’s Andrew Maxwell, who has a rating of 81.9. After two games, Maxwell was replaced by Connor Cook.
The top passer in the Pac-12 is Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, who has thrown for a whopping 1,237 yards and 12 touchdowns in the Beavers’ 1-2 start. Mannion has a passer rating of 181.9.
Next are Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Washington’s Keith Price, who are tied with a passer rating of 179 and have combined for a 5-0 start.
While the Pac-12 doesn’t have a guy below the 100 mark in passer rating, it does have Arizona’s P.J. Denker with a 118.2. Of course, he plays for a team that primarily runs the ball.
Topping the charts in the SEC is LSU’s Zach Mettenberger with 797 yards, nine touchdowns, zero interceptions and a passer rating of 205.3.
The “bottom” of the barrel in the SEC—a relative term—is Vanderbilt’s Austyn Carta-Samuels at 138.1.
Where Does the ACC Rank?
Calculating an average passer rating for each conference, a number that includes every quarterback who has started a game in 2013, provides a good indicator of the ACC’s relative strength at quarterback.
After a mere three weeks of play, the ACC comes in above the Big Ten and Big 12, but well below the Pac-12 and SEC.
What’s made clear from a national perspective is that while the SEC has its talent spread from top to bottom, the high-flying Big 12 isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
For the ACC, it’s a respectable showing, and perhaps it’s an early finding fraught with hidden meaning.
Indeed, maybe this is the ACC’s year.
Stats courtesy of ESPN.