This is Part 1 in what is hoped to be a multi-part series looking at NC State’s 2018 football opponents. Today we’ll be looking at the opposing quarterbacks. Let’s rank and review ‘em!
1. West Virginia
Projected Starter: Will Grier (SR)
Top Reserve(s): Jack Allison (r-SO)
Grier is an incredibly talented QB with an NFL future. The Davidson, NC, native and former 4-star prep QB has had a rocky road (mountain pun!) through his college career to this point, but despite the crazy Florida stuff and his injury issues last year, he still threw for 3,490 yards and 34 TDs to 12 INTs in 11 games in his first active season in Morgantown. Grier put up an absurd 9.0 yards/attempt and 162.7 pass efficiency rating (for comparison, Ryan Finley averaged 7.4 yard/attempt with a 136.0 rating last year). The matchup between the Mountaineers and the Wolfpack will be a QB showdown of two likely NFL Draft 1st rounders. Grier’s top backup from a year ago, Chris Chugunov, made a surprise move to Ohio State last week as a graduate transfer; however, Allison (a former 4-star recruit) will step in as the top backup this year after redshirting the 2017 season following a transfer from Miami.
Projected Starter: Kelly Bryant (SR) OR Trevor Lawrence (FR)
Top Reserve(s): Kelly Bryant (SR) OR Trevor Lawrence (FR)
It’s a little bit absurd that a senior QB who led his team to the College Football Playoffs a year ago would potentially lose his job, but then again, Clemson. Bryant, for all the spectacular plays he did put together in 2017, had some tough shoes to fill for Deshaun Watson, and he never did seem to do that in his first year under center. Not that he was bad by any means (2,802 yards, 13 TDs, 8 INTs; 665 yards rushing, 11 TDs), it’s just that Clemson has been spoiled with QB play of late. Add to that the arrival of top recruit and Fabio enthusiast Trevor Lawrence, and the situation gets murky. Either way, Clemson is in a good situation this year: you either have an experienced player with proven success slinging the ball around for you, or you have the #1 national QB recruit from the 2018 class back there building for the future. Poor Tigers. Really hate it for those guys.
3. Florida State
Projected Starter: Deondre Francois (r-JR)
Top Reserve(s): James Blackman (SO), Bailey Hockman (r-FR)
With the exception of West Virginia, Francois would be the clear-cut starter at every other school on State’s schedule this year; however, with new coach Willie Taggart coming in and trying to install his “Gulf Coast” offense and Francois recovering from a knee injury that wiped out almost his entire 2017 season, things are a bit more iffy. Taggart’s offensive system relies on a true dual-threat QB to make the offense hum, and Francois is not that guy. Further complicating the situation is that Francois wasn’t able to go through spring drills to get a hands-on feel for how to run the offense. This has allowed Blackman (a true dual-threat, as the Wolfpack saw last year in Tallahassee) and Hockman (a lefty pro-style QB, but one with enough mobility to get the job done) to put themselves into the discussion. Francois should still win the job, but it’ll be interesting to see how it all shakes out and how quickly Taggart might make a switch should Francois struggle.
Projected Starter: Eric Dungey (SR)
Top Reserve(s): Tommy DeVito (r-FR)
It’s not often that a three-year starting QB could potentially lose out on his job as a senior, especially to a guy who was on the roster the previous year, but apparently that could well happen at Syracuse this year. Dino Babers has apparently had enough with the passing inconsistency of Dungey that he’s opened up the competition for the starting gig and given DeVito, a former 4-start recruit and Elite 11 finalist, reps with the first team unit in fall camp. I doubt that DeVito takes the job from Dungey, a very talented dual-threat QB who can dominate the game at times, but if Babers really wants to get his Baylor-style offense going for the Orange, maybe he mixes things up a bit.
Projected Starter: Bryce Perkins (JR)
Top Reserve(s): Lindell Stone (SO), Brennan Armstrong (FR)
Virginia has to replace two-year starting QB Kurt Benkert, a pocket-passer who threw for 5,817 yards and 46 TDs in his time under center with the Wahoos. Perkins, a dual-threat JUCO transfer who started his career at Arizona State, is the man who will take those reins. It’ll be interesting to see how Bronco Mendenhall can adjust his offense to a type of player that he’s never really coached before. Perkins is a big (6’3, 210), physical guy with wheels to burn and a cannon for an arm. He’s pretty scary, honestly. Stone (a pro-style pocket-passer) and Armstrong (great QB name; a dual-threat QB who is likely to redshirt unless Perkins gets hurt) will back up the position.
6. Boston College
Projected Starter: Anthony Brown (r-SO)
Top Reserve(s): EJ Perry (SO), Matt McDonald (r-FR)
Anthony Brown was putting together a really great freshman year until he went down with a serious knee injury in BC’s tenth game of the year (the game against NC State, no less) on a non-contact play. Brown is working his way back now, but only time will tell how much the injury will impact him this season as he’ll be making a return to action less than a year after the original injury. When Brown is on, he’s good, and he’ll be a player to watch over the next three seasons for the Eagles. Perry and McDonald are battling for the #2 spot on the depth chart.
Projected Starter: Jawon Pass (r-SO)
Top Reserve(s): Malik Cunningham (r-FR), Jordan Travis (FR)
Pass (another great QB name) will step in and be the guy to try and replace arguably the most dynamic QB in college football history and walking human football cheat code, Heisman Tophy winner Lamar Jackson. There are some seriously big and fast shoes to fill, but Pass has a lot of hype around him and Bobby Petrino seems to have full trust in the redshirt sophomore, having named him as the starting QB pretty much the moment Jackson declared for the draft. While Pass is more of a pocket passer than what we’ve seen of late in Louisville QBs, he still has the ability to successfully run the ball. Cunningham is a super mobile and agile QB, more in the mold of Lamar Jackson. Travis is another dual-threat QB with tremendous wheels, but my money would be on a redshirt for him.
8. Wake Forest
Projected Starter: Kendall Hinton (r-JR)
Top Reserve(s): Jamie Newman (r-SO), Sam Hartman (FR)
Hinton was the heir apparent to four-year starter John Wolford (although he really only had one good year), but Hinton went and got himself suspended for the first three games of the year, so now there’s an open QB competition going on in Winston-Salem. If this were any previous year, Newman would be the obvious choice to start the three games and allow Hartman to redshirt, but given the new redshirting rules in place this year, Hartman could start the three games until Hinton returns from suspension and still retain his redshirt eligibility for the year. Either way, if Newman (a giant dual-threat bulldozer of a QB) or Hartman (an early-enrollee true freshman with a more pro-style skill set) take the job and run with it like Wolford did last year, then Hinton could find himself signaling plays from the sideline rather than calling them in the huddle for the rest of the year.
9. North Carolina
Projected Starter: Nathan Elliott (JR)
Top Reserve(s): Chazz Surratt (SO)
Surratt was the starter for the majority of the Tar Heels’ 3-9 season a year ago, but Elliott got the run as the first string QB for the finishing kick of the season when Surratt’s production diminished and he did decently well (925 yards, 10 TDs, 5 INTs). With Surratt suspended for the first four games of the year following his entrepreneurial efforts with his own low-overhead Foot Locker, Elliott will enter the season as the clear-cut starter by default. Chances are, though, that Larry Fedora will give ol’ Chazz another go at the starting gig at some point in the year because coaches just for some reason can’t quit on big time recruits who aren’t panning out.
10. James Madison
Projected Starter: Cole Johnson (JR) OR Ben DiNucci (r-JR)
Top Reserve(s): Cole Johnson (JR) OR Ben DiNucci (r-JR)
Whether it’s sophomore Cole Johnson or junior Ben DiNucci, whoever lines up under center for JMU in the season opener against NC State will have some big shoes to fill. Bryan Schor graduated after setting a whole slew of Dukes career passing records (yards, completions, touchdowns) as a two year starter, while also being a threat with his legs. Johnson is an in-program developed QB while DiNucci probably sounds familiar to State fans after having transferred to JMU after last season from Pittsburgh, where he went 19-of-32 for 170 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT against the ‘Pack (he was inexplicably pulled in the 3rd quarter with Pitt down 21-14, and Pitt managed only a FG from there on in a 35-17 loss). DiNucci is a former 3-star recruit who appeared in 11 games over two seasons at Pitt, making six starts and throwing for a total of 1,107 yards with 6 TDs and 7 INTs. Johnson is a former 2-star recruit from Virginia Beach who has appeared in 10 games over two years for the Dukes with one start, throwing for 458 yards with 3 TDs and 3 INTs.
Projected Starter: Alex Thomson (r-JR)
Top Reserve(s): Garet Morrell (r-SO), Isaiah Green (r-FR)
Marshall appeared to be in great shape heading into the 2018 season with three-year starter Chase Litton set to return for his senior season, but then Litton made a surprise decision and declared for the 2018 NFL Draft (where he went undrafted and later signed as a UDFA with the Kansas City Chiefs). Replacing Litton’s production won’t be easy (heck, he was the only player to attempt a pass for Marshall in 2017), and the issue is even more complex given the preference of new Marshall OC Tim Cramsey (Sam Houston State) to sling the ball all around the field, but Wagner (D1-AA/FCS) graduate transfer Alex Thomson should help to fill in nicely. Thomson missed almost the entire 2017 season with a shoulder injury, but he should be back by the season opener, and should put up some monster numbers in Cramsey’s high-octane offense. If Thomson can’t go, Morrell (a pro-style QB who actually made two emergency starts in 2016 as a true freshman before redshirting last year) or Green (a raw, but talented, dual-threat QB) will battle it out for the back-up duties.
12. Georgia State
Projected Starter: Aaron Winchester (r-JR) OR Dan Ellington (JR)
Top Reserve(s): Aaron Winchester (r-JR) OR Dan Ellington (JR)
Like James Madison, Georgia State must replace a record-setting two-year starting quarterback. Connor Manning wasn’t the most impressive QB, but he was pretty much the man for the Panthers the last two years, throwing for 5,830 yards and 30 TDs in that span. Winchester (great name for a QB) was Manning’s top backup, appearing in 9 games over the last two years, including one start, throwing for 373 yards with 2 TDs and 3 INTs, and rushing for 283 yards and 1 TD. Ellington is a JUCO transfer who picked up some All-America accolades last year at Itawamba CC. Ellington also provides a dual-threat option at QB, although he is the more lethal of the two passing the ball.