In recent weeks, we have looked at the best returning quarterbacks from the SEC, Big XII, and Big 10. Now we look at one of the most competitive quarterback races in the country; The ACC’s Best Returning Quarterbacks.
The distance from #3 to #1 is small and really based on some significant subjectivity. There are big stats and big games won. We are certain that the fan base of each of these three quarterbacks will feel invested that their guy should be number one. Yet, we feel secure in how we picked the best, in reverse order.
The ACC’s Best Returning Quarterbacks
#3 – Brennan Armstrong; Virginia Cavaliers
The country needs to see more of this fifth-year quarterback out of Ohio. He had a very good 2020 in an injury-compressed schedule. He threw for more than 2,000 yards and a 58% completion percentage. The downside to his game was the 18:11 touchdown to interception ratio.
That was followed by an outstanding 2021. His stats are undeniably aided by a wide-open offense from head coach Bronco Mendenhall. Armstrong averaged 45 passing attempts per game last season. His completion percentage skyrocketed to 65% as he threw for just under 4,500 yards. The touchdown to interception ratio improved dramatically to 31:10. Put it all together and he finished the season with a QB rating of 156.4.
One of the things we look at in putting together all of our lists is how players did in terms of consistency across the season. But we also want to see their biggest game of the season and what they looked like at that bright lights moment. Against North Carolina, in a game at Chapel Hill, Armstrong was 38 of 54 for a staggering 72% completion percentage. He threw for 554 yards with four touchdowns and only one interception. The yards set the UVA single-game passing record. The Cavs won the game 59-39.
Armstrong finished the season as a semi-finalist for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien awards. He was also a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award. He was named third-team all-conference quarterback.
#2 – Sam Hartman; Wake Forest Demon Deacons
There was speculation that Hartman might leave for the NFL after 2021, his fourth season in Winston-Salem. He led the Demon Deacons to one of their most successful seasons in program history at 11-3, the ACC Atlantic Division title, and a win over Rutgers in the Gator Bowl.
It was a crowded quarterback draft, and Harman’s game still needed more refinement. So he returns for a fifth season at Wake. With redshirting and the NCAA Covid allowances for 2020, he is a redshirt junior. He started a handful of games in 2018 and 2019. He became the full-time starter as a redshirt sophomore in 2020, and the offense has been his ever since.
In 2021 he threw for more than 4,000 yards at a 59% completion clip. He had 39 passing touchdowns but also threw 14 interceptions. He had an outstanding game against Army, going 23 of 29 for 458 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.
Hartman struggled in the conference championship game against Pitt. He was 21 of 46 for 213 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. And that part about the big games? It wasn’t just the ACC title game loss. Against NC State, Hartman was 20 of 47 for 290 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. The Demon Deacons managed to squeak out the game anyway, 45-42.
Hartman finished the season as a Maxwell Award semi-finalist. He was named second team-all conference quarterback.
#1 – Devin Leary; North Carolina State Wolfpack
We can sense the steam coming from Winston-Salem over our choosing NC State’s Leary. After all the guy was “only” honorable mention all-conference last year. But maybe, just maybe, he deserved better in the all-conference voting.
In 2019, Leary became the first redshirt freshman in school history to start at quarterback. His 2020 season was truncated due to a fractured fibula in week four against Duke. He missed the rest of the season.
Leary did not throw for the yardage Hartman did in 2021. He had 3,433 passing yards. BUT, his completion percentage was a full seven points higher at 66%. And his touchdown to interception ratio was a very acceptable 35:5. His quarterback rating for the season was 157, (compared to Hartman’s 148.6). The 35 touchdowns put him first on the school’s single-season record list, passing Philip Rivers’s mark of 34 set in 2003. He was also the only quarterback in school history to throw for four or more TDs against five ACC opponents
And then there is the part about big games. Against Wake Forest last season, while Hartman was completing 42% of his passes, Leary was 37 of 59 for 408 yards, four touchdowns, and two interceptions. It was his best statistical game of the year in one of his biggest games of the year.
The Wolfpack traveled to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl. Leary was to have a chance to face a UCLA pass defense that ranked in the bottom half of the country all season. But the Bruins had a Covid outbreak and the game was canceled.
Leary was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award in 2021. He heads into 2022 as a fifth-year quarterback and third year as a full-time starter.