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The ACC’s Revolving Door For Quarterbacks

Revolving Door For Quarterbacks

The storyline for ACC football going into the 2022 season was the return of most of the starting quarterbacks in the conference. Every quarterback in the ACC Atlantic Division was returning to their team. With a couple of months to go before Spring camp begins in earnest, one of the storylines will be the ACC’s revolving door for quarterbacks.

This is not the final, conclusive list of quarterback movement in, out, and around the conference. It cannot yet be that declarative. The deadline for underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft came and went Monday. But the transfer portal window is still open. The first deadline for portal entry is January 18th. There is another two-week window in early May, at the conclusion of most Spring camps. But what we can know now is that the ACC quarterback lineups in 2023 will bear little resemblance to those of 2022.

Who Is Gone

Malik Cunningham, Louisville;

Cunningham skipped the  Cardinals’ bowl game after declaring for the NFL Draft in early December. He will go down as one of the all-time quarterbacks in Louisville. Cunningham played in 56 games in his career and passed for 9,660 yards and 70 touchdowns. He threw for more than 2,000 yards in each year, 2019, 2020, and 2021. He will likely be replaced by Jack Plummer, a transfer from Cal.


D.J. Uiagalelei, Clemson;

After two years of “struggling” as the starter at Clemson, he went into the transfer portal and ended up on the other side of the country at Oregon State. In 2022, he had his highest completion percentage, his most passing yards, and his best TD:INT ratio as a starter. Still, Tigers fans could not wait to see backup Cade Klubnik. Uiagalelei, who never seemed comfortable in the Clemson offense under 2021 offensive coordinator Tony Elliott or 2022 coordinator Brandon Streeter, was quick to head out. Ironically, Streeter was fired last week because of the team’s inconsistent performances on offense. While that was happening, the Uiagalelei family was posting pictures of lunch with his brother who recently signed his letter of intent for the rival Oregon Ducks.


Sam Hartman, Wake Forest;

Hartman made it clear before the last home game in November that he would not be back for his sixth year of eligibility, saying there was, “No shot.” It was assumed by many that he would be entering the NFL draft. He is statistically one of the premier quarterbacks in Demon Deacons’ history. He also owns the ACC career record for touchdown passes. His legacy at Wake Forest was cast in stone. But as the week of preparation for the Gasparilla Bowl neared, word started to leak that he was going into the transfer portal and would end up at Notre Dame. When asked after the bowl game about what would go into his thought process, he high-tailed it off the stage like he was avoiding a linebacker blitz. In the coming days, he entered the portal, and in the ensuing weeks, he solidified his deal with Notre Dame.

He will replace 2022 starter Drew Pyne, who transferred to Arizona State. There will be a theoretical competition for the job with Tyler Buchner, who played three games for the Irish in 2022. The now-routine rumors of him leaving for NIL money started immediately. But NFL scouts told us Hartman needed more time in a pure pro-style offense, thus the move. He will now get the hype that comes with being a quarterback at Notre Dame that you rarely get at Wake.


Devin Leary, NC State;

Prior to the 2022 season, he was getting accolades as the best quarterback in the conference. His season did not come close to that. With inconsistent play, followed by injuries that shut Leary down in mid-October for the rest of the season, it was a tough year for the junior. In the six games that he played in, he had two where he did not even muster 150 yards passing. Once Will Levis made his obvious decision to leave Kentucky for the NFL, there was an immediate opening in Lexington. There is not expected to be much of a quarterback competition in the Spring, with Leary being the odds-on favorite, pending his recovery from pectoral muscle surgery.


Kedon Slovis, Pitt;

Slovis is moving on to his third team in his college career. He was once the prize recruit at USC. He put up viable numbers in three years for the Trojans but never met the expectations for a beleaguered Clay Helton-led coaching staff. Injuries cost him a third of the games in his second and third years. He spent last season at Pitt under Pat Narduzzi and offensive coordinator, Frank Cignetti, Jr. He managed 10 touchdown passes, but also had nine interceptions.

Still, he was one of the more accomplished quarterbacks in the portal and he now heads to BYU for his fifth year of college football. That means he has one more year left if things don’t go to his liking in Provo. It’s another situation where there will be little if any, competition for the starting quarterback job. He will be working with the same coaching staff that turned Zack Wilson and Jaren Hall into NFL Draft prospects.


Jeff Sims, Georgia Tech;

He went into the transfer portal after three seasons in Atlanta. He is one of the most welcomed additions at his new school of anyone in the transfer portal. The 6-4, 220-pound dual-threat quarterback is going to Nebraska with new head coach Matt Rhule. The Cornhuskers’ offense was nothing short of horrible under Scott Frost. Sims going there sheds some light on the kind of offense Rhule wants to have in Lincoln. Sims has three years left if he wants to use the 2020 Covid exemption. At GA Tech, he likely gets replaced by Haynes King, a transfer from Texas A&M.


Who Is Back, Sort Of

Brennan Armstrong, Virginia to NC State;

We count Armstrong as coming back because even though he left Virginia and went into the portal, he is staying in the ACC with his transfer to NC State, ironically replacing the portal departing Devin Leary. The expectations were high for Armstrong. He had a huge 2021 with nearly 4,500 yards passing and 31 touchdowns. But he got bit by new coach Tony Elliott’s bad offense, just as Uiagalelei was at Clemson. In 10 games in 2022, he only managed 2,210 passing with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He now goes to NC State, which happens to have an immediate opening.


Drake Maye, North Carolina;

He was one of the breakout players of the year throughout the country. After the halfway point of the season, he was mentioned in the Heisman conversation. He finished his redshirt freshman year with 4,321 yards, 38 touchdowns, and a 66% completion rate, despite struggling in the Holiday Bowl against Oregon. He was the subject of much late-season chatter with regard to NIL money and inducements from other schools. Tar Heels coach Mack Brown claimed various schools were trying to illegally poach his quarterback with enticements of up to $5 million in NIL money. Maye confirmed he had been approached by third-party representatives but did not confirm the dollar amounts of the offers. He proclaimed at the end of the season that he has no intention of leaving UNC. He will be adjusting to a new offensive coordinator as Phil Longo left to take the same position at Wisconsin.


Riley Leonard, Duke;

Leonard flew too far under the radar in 2022. He only had one career start going into the season. He came out of his sophomore campaign just under 3,000 yards passing, a 64% completion rate, and 20 passing touchdowns. Leonard added 700 yards rushing and another 13 touchdowns on the ground. You never know in this day and age, but there has been no indication he intends to leave Duke for another school. Head coach Mike Elko has a lot riding on his young quarterback who still has tons of upside.


Phil Jurkovec, Boston College to Pitt;

Another quarterback that we include in the “returning” list because while he is leaving his 2022 school, he is staying in the conference. He couldn’t crack the starting line-up in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, so left for Chestnut Hill. His peak to this point was the 2020 season with 2,558 passing yards. He started well in 2021 before a hand injury late in week two took him out for the rest of the season. He had an injury-shortened 2022 as well, seeing action in eight games. Jurkovec finished with 1,711 yards but his TD:INT ratio was a poor 11:8. He now moves into the position abandoned by Kedon Slovis at Pitt, with one year of eligibility left.


Garrett Shrader, Syracuse;

For now, it looks like Shrader is returning to the Orange. He originally transferred from Mississippi State and spent two years in Starkville. He has played in every game in his two years at Syracuse, starting in most of them. Shrader has thrown for 4,000 yards in the two years on a 58% completion rate. The Orange offense is going to be missing a critical cog in 2023 as all-conference running back Sean Tucker has declared for the NFL draft.


Tyler Van Dyke, Miami;

He has not announced he is coming back. He has not announced he is leaving. The news indicating Van Dyke’s return to the Canes came from Miami’s primary NIL promoter John Ruiz. He announced on Twitter that Van Dyke had signed a new NIL for 2023. Van Dyke was sidelined and limited by a shoulder injury over the final month of this past season. His numbers reflect that with fewer than 2,000 yards passing, 10 touchdowns, and five interceptions over nine games. Head coach Mario Cristobol still has a lot of work to do in rebuilding his alma mater.


Jordan Travis, Florida State;

This is a huge “get” for head coach Mike Norvell. Travis is one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. He could have taken his sixth year somewhere else, or even opted for the NFL draft. Travis announced on December 10th that he would return to Tallahassee, saying he had unfinished business. He is only the fourth quarterback in program history to account for at least 30 touchdowns and 3,000+ yards in a season. Has played 35 games at FSU and has 5,888 yards and 45 touchdowns passing. He also had 1,734 yards and 24 touchdowns rushing. The fact that he had very real options and decided to stay for his final year elevates the expectations for Florida State in 2023.

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