We all know that quarterback is the most valued position in football.
Any team that wants to reach success needs a solid player under center. It separates the contenders from the pretenders.
The ACC's continuing journey along the road to respect is paved with strong performances by the quarterbacks under center.
With the departure of C.J. Spiller, the ACC has several candidates to take over the title of most- talked-about football player in the conference.
This is a list of the top 12 quarterbacks entering the conference next season. Obviously, there are a mix of styles in the ACC. Some signal callers are pure pocket passers, while others would like to use their feet first.
Still, no matter how you get it done, the ACC has some productive quarterbacks—and that is why their teams have enjoyed success with their hard work.
So, without further ado, the biggest quarterback threats that the ACC has to offer.
Riley Skinner is gone, and the hole he leaves is going to be hard to fill.
Brendan Cross is just one of a few candidates to be the starter for the Demon Deacons, and he's proving that he's right where he belongs on our depth chart.
Ted Stachitas is another candidate, but considering that Skinner was a four-year starter, whoever head coach Jim Grobe selects, it will be a downgrade.
It doesn't help Wake Forest that they are also losing three starters on the offensive line. This may mean that Cross could become close friends with the turf of Winston Salem.
The good news is even though running back Josh Adams is leaving early for the NFL draft, many of the playmakers on offense remain. However, Cross will have trouble living up to a total offense that was ranked fourth in the ACC last season.
The Demon Deacons will probably be out of the Atlantic race next season, but Grobe has proven his ability to make a run—and Wake Forest will have the pieces in place for a solid future.
Renfree appeared to be a shoo-in to replace quarterback Thaddeus Lewis until he went down Nov. 14 with an ACL injury.
Now that he will be unable to play in the spring game, the race is opening up with sophomore Sean Schroeder and grayshirt Brandon Connette given their opportunities to step in under center.
Coach David Cutcliffe may be a good coach, but his success these past few seasons has relied on the arm of Lewis. Now he must groom a young quarterback and hope that some of the upgrades at wide receiver will be enough to carry his offense.
Last year, Duke had the No. 1 pass offense in the ACC. Certainly, that number will go down in 2010—but how much? Has Duke addressed the needs at running back to help balance the one-dimensional offense?
Renfree has some experience with the team, and he appears to be a solid quarterback who can help the Blue Devils in their football renaissance. However, until he gets a balanced offense and in-game experience, it will take time for him to adjust to life as a starter in the ACC.
Marc Verica appeared to be a budding superstar in October 2008; now Cavalier fans cringe at the thought of the senior under center.
Verica went from fourth on the depth chart to leading game-winning drives over North Carolina and Georgia Tech in back-to-back weeks. He had a good arm and some playmakers around him.
He also had a plethora of interceptions.
For his career, Verica has eight touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Ouch.
A key pick against Virginia Tech to end the 2008 season seemed to mark the beginning of the end for Verica. The return of Jameel Sewell led to a severe regression.
In limited playing time last season, Verica looked almost terrified under center. He had trouble seeing downfield, and his short passes were uncharacteristically off.
Consider that after 63 attempts, he only averaged a paltry 2.48 yards per pass.
Combine those problems with an offensive line that struggled last season and the departures of the nearly the entire running backs corps, and Virginia's offense will struggle next season.
However, if new coach Mike London can build Verica's confidence back up and cut down on the interceptions, then Verica can be a serviceable quarterback in the ACC. He has some big games to prove that.
Although quarterback Chris Turner has controlled the Maryland offense for the past few years, Robinson has already shown people that he is capable of taking over the reins.
Last season, Robinson played the final four games when Turner went down with an injury. Although his numbers were not overwhelming, he improved with each game.
He also threw no interceptions in 85 attempts—a statistic that Verica would love to claim.
Robinson also brings a dual-threat capacity that Turner never had: He ran for 129 yards against the vaunted Virginia Tech Hokies in a loss.
With spring training coming up and Robinson tentatively penciled in as the future, his experience and confidence should make him a pretty solid quarterback for next season.
Coach Ralph Friedgen needs Robinson to continue to improve. The man once known as an offensive genius has been ducking the pink slip the past few seasons and really could use a turnaround in 2010.
Robinson might just do that for him.
It's never easy playing quarterback as a freshman.
However, Dave Shinskie evolved throughout the season and helped lead the Boston College Eagles to a surprise 8-5 record.
Of course, most freshmen are not 25 years old, like Shinskie was.
Shinskie knows he has to improve on his 15 touchdowns and 14 interceptions last season—but really, his numbers are skewed by three games.
His low point came against the Virginia Tech Hokies, where he went a shocking 1-of-12 for four yards and two interceptions. He also had a four-interception performance against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
Shinskie was clearly rattled by the blitzing defenses in the ACC, but running back Montel Harris can help make aggressive defenses pay with his abilities.
Shinskie loses two offensive linemen and his top wide receivers, but Boston College always seems to bounce back and maintain its good standing. Expect the sophomore signal caller to do the same.
Kyle Parker will learn that life is going to be different without C.J. Spiller in the backfield. However, he has proven to be an effective leader who is ready to carry the team.
Parker put up impressive numbers as a freshman: 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions and throwing for more than 2,500 yards.
Without Spiller, Parker will be attempting more passes, but he will also be missing that safety valve. Of those 2,500 yards passing, more than 500 of them went to Spiller.
Parker and Clemson got to the ACC Championship game last season, and the pressure will be on for a repeat performance. The sophomore will have two cupcake games to beef up his statistics until the big showdown with Auburn.
If Parker plays well, expect the Tigers to contend for the ACC crown. If he falters, the schedule does not get any easier, with Miami and North Carolina following that.
Parker is a very good pocket passer, and his team certainly achieved success. He tied for the most wins by a freshman last season. It will be interesting to see, though, how the baseball season will affect his progress in football.
Parker admitted in an interview that the double duty has hurt his baseball game: His batting average has slipped significantly, and he has planned to pull back a bit in football's spring practice.
Parker has the tools to be a great quarterback, but we'll have to see if his extra work load affects him next season.
Last season was definitely one T.J. Yates would want to forget.
Although the Tar Heels went 8-5, Yates had to deal with a decimated offensive line—and the results were not pretty.
Yates, a highly touted quarterback entering the season, finished with 14 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He was sacked 24 times and threw for 500 fewer yards than he did as a freshman.
Yates had zero games in which he threw for more than 300 yards.
However, all is not lost for Yates. With newfound health comes newfound expectations. Yates is still a strong-armed and cerebral quarterback. He looks poised to bounce back his senior year.
Yates is one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the conference this upcoming season. He has some great games under his belt and has helped coach Butch Davis capture signature wins over Miami, Virginia Tech, and others the past few years.
His last-minute drive against the Hokies, after blowing an 18-point lead at home a week earlier, was a thing of beauty. His resiliency is unquestioned.
He also has wide receiver Erik Highsmith, an emerging talent that will look to bolster the offense alongside the explosive Greg Little.
Yates, like the Tar Heels, has something to prove in 2010. Don't be surprised when he bounces back to his old form.
Sure, he's never going to run for 3,000 yards, but Josh Nesbitt is one of the most feared quarterbacks in the ACC.
Nesbitt is simply an offensive monster; his versatility has allowed Paul Johnson to look like a genius as head coach of the Yellow Jackets. It also allowed Georgia Tech to win the ACC and go to the Orange Bowl last season.
2009 was certainly his breakout year as a quarterback. Nesbitt not only more than doubled his passing production, but he also rushed for more than 1,000 yards.
In total, Nesbitt scored 28 touchdowns his junior year.
Nesbitt's best statistic, though, is that his team is 25-10 when he is under center—and the Yellow Jackets could make another run for the Coastal title next season.
Nesbitt will be without his partner-in-crime running back, Jonathan Dwyer, and his top wide receiver, Demaryius Thomas. However, Nesbitt has made a reputation of playing through adversity.
The challenge for this signal caller will be to have a big performance in a big game. For as successful as he and his team have been, fans can remember some of his biggest clunkers have come on the biggest of stages.
In the Orange Bowl, Nesbitt was shut down—55 total yards of offense with no touchdowns and an interception.
Against Lousiana State University, Nesbitt threw 8-of-24 and had no touchdowns.
If Georgia Tech is going to take that splash onto the national stage, Nesbitt and the Yellow Jackets will have to be able to perform—even if teams have time to plan against the option offense.
Remember when the ACC fell in love with Russell Wilson?
Coming into last season, Wilson was all the buzz in ACC chatter. He had turned the Wolfpack season around as a freshman by helping N.C. State win its final four regular season games.
He set a record last season for the most consecutive passes without an interception before he had two picks against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
Overall, Wilson's numbers for 2009 are special. He threw for more than 3,000 yards and had 31 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Four times, he had games of more than 325 yards passing.
However, none of that ultimately affected the bottom line. North Carolina State finished the season a disappointing 5-7. Overall, it was certainly a step back for the program.
The Wolfpack secondary cost N.C. State last season, but perhaps Wilson can help the team live up to the hype in 2010.
The good news for Wilson is that they keep almost their entire receiving corps; however, they lose four out of five starters on the offensive line.
Good thing Wilson is mobile, because he will be running from defenses early in the season.
He also loses his running back and will be expected to carry the offense more than ever. Unfortunately, this probably means a repeat of what we saw last year: great performances that come in losses.
Hopefully, Wilson will stay his senior season. By then, the Wolfpack may finally be ready to pounce on the Atlantic Division. Until then, he will have to settle for being one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC.
He came almost out of nowhere, but he seems to be here to stay.
Harris fought Robert Mavre for the starting position as a true freshman, but now the team is all his—and the numbers speak for themselves. As a sophomore, Harris threw for more than 3,300 yards and 24 touchdowns with 17 interceptions.
Sure, he had some growing pains. Against Virginia Tech, Harris and company laid a huge egg when he went 9-of-25 in a 31-7 loss. His four-interception performance also cost the Hurricanes a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels.
However, he and Miami bounced back. Harris had a 330-yard, three-touchdown performance in a 28-27 victory over Wake Forest. He also threw for 386 yards in the season opener against Florida State.
In both games, Harris led a two-minute drill for the go-ahead touchdown.
Maturation and a good memory will make Harris take a step to the next level as a quarterback. The kid may be confident—bordering on cocky—but he has talent around him, and he gets the Virginia Tech Hokies at home this season.
Considering how hard he took that embarrassing loss, expect him to try to prove critics wrong in 2010. The Hurricanes have a huge showdown with Ohio State this season—a game that puts Harris on the national stage.
Will he shine in the spotlight? He will if he's healthy.
Harris underwent surgery on his throwing hand and will miss the spring game. As long as rehab progresses nicely, expect Harris to make a big step forward in 2010.
Tyrod Taylor had heard the critics before.
In his first two years, Virginia Tech had basically won games in spite of Taylor as opposed to because of him. Entering last season, Taylor had seven passing touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Well, Taylor responded to the barbs with his best statistical season to date—making him the biggest dual-threat quarterback in the ACC.
Taylor scored 18 total touchdowns last season, including 13 of them through the air. You better believe if it were not for running back Ryan Williams, that number would be far higher.
The rising senior threw for more yards as a junior than his previous two seasons combined. In fact, it was more than 400 yards more than his freshman and sophomore years put together.
Taylor's biggest moment of the season was not with his legs, but with his arm—a long bomb against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on a late-minute drive that will live in Hokie history.
Of course, Taylor is not so much a quarterback as he is a winner. His playmaking ability in the clutch has helped Virginia Tech be a dominant program in the ACC.
You may not always fear his arm, but you fear playing the athlete—Virginia Tech has only seven losses in three years with Taylor under center.
The key this season will probably be Taylor's health. Given his nature to break the pocket, the senior always seems to get nagging injuries, and he may miss a game or two throughout the season.
If Taylor remains healthy, expect another ACC crown to go to the Hokies.
2010 will be the breakout year for Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder.
The junior had a rough end to the season. An injury cost him the final four games of the season, and yet he still threw for nearly 2,500 yards and had a 2-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Ponder is a pure passer, and his numbers should improve with the big recruiting class haul by coach Jimbo Fisher.
Ponder and his team have something to prove in 2010; they are tired of becoming an also-ran in a conference they once dominated. When these talented Seminoles play with a chip on their shoulders, they are a force to be reckoned with.
Ponder proved to be a consistent producer. In eight of his nine games last year, he threw for more than 250 yards. In four games, he threw for more than 300 yards. He also completed nearly 70 percent of his passes.
It also does not hurt that Ponder was named All-ACC on the Academic Team for the conference. This is a smart guy and a hard worker—and someone who will earn ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors in 2010.
Let the debate begin!