Starting off a week of opponent look-aheads, we sort out the most threatening quarterbacks who will take aim at Manny Diaz’ defense this fall.
Notre Dame: DeShone Kizer, R-Soph. or Malik Zaire, Sr.
See: Ohio State, 2015. Like Urban Meyer last year, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has the enviable-yet-frustrating task of sorting through several quality candidates. There’s Zaire, who won last year’s battle and looked excellent before breaking his ankle in Week 2. There’s Kizer, who put up 3,404 total yards and 31 touchdowns in leading the Irish (10-3) to a Fiesta Bowl appearance. The only safe bet in this race is against rising sophomore Brandon Wimbush, the No. 3 dual-threat QB in the 2015 recruiting class according to 247Sports. His time will come eventually.
Virginia Tech: Jerod Evans, Jr.
Being the top-rated JUCO prospect at one’s position doesn’t automatically mean success (as Beau Sandland, Jerome Washington and many others know), but Evans is clearly one of the most gifted quarterbacks the Canes will face this year. The 6-4, 230-pound transfer from Trinity Valley College in Texas racked up 3,164 passing yards and 38 touchdowns with just three interceptions last year. He did that in eight games. He also has a QB-friendly coach (Justin Fuente, who heavily recruited him at Memphis) and a legit No. 1 wideout (Isaiah Ford). Fuente doesn’t want to disrespect fifth-year senior Brendan Motley, but Evans appears to be better.
North Carolina: Mitch Trubisky, R-Jr.
Local hype is growing, but the jury’s still out on Marquise Williams’ two-year backup. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound pocket passer has had four years of spring practice in coach Larry Fedora’s system and looked excellent in spot duty last year, completing 40-of-47 passes for 555 yards, six touchdowns and zero interceptions in nine games. Against ACC schools, he went 16-for-18 for 106 yards and a touchdown, seeing time against Miami (5-for-5, 84 yards), Wake Forest, Duke, North Carolina State and Clemson. Worth noting: he subbed in to convert third down chances against the latter two schools, throwing a touchdown pass against the Wolfpack. Sept. 3 against Georgia will be his first career start.
Florida State: Sean Maguire, R-Sr. or Deondre Francois, R-Fr.
Whomever Jimbo Fisher tabs to start a marquee season-opener against Mississippi probably the best chance of starting Oct. 8 at Miami. If Maguire, who took over for Everett Golson in the second half of 2015 and threw for 1,520 yards and 11 touchdowns on 59 percent passing, has recovered from the broken ankle that knocked him out of the Peach Bowl, he might be the safe pick. But Francois, considered to be the most talented passer on the roster, will have a shot to win the job in August. With the quarterback spot one of few question marks on a potential playoff contender, Fisher might go with a veteran, but has been willing to play talented youngsters. Here’s a safe bet: freshman Malik Henry won’t make his mark this year.
Appalachian State: Taylor Lamb, R-Jr.
Good quarterback, good team, bad conference. Lamb (6-2, 200), ranked 23rd on Athlon Sports’ list of the nation’s top quarterbacks, should once again light up the Sun Belt. In his first two years as a starter, he threw for 48 touchdowns and 18 interceptions and averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Threat level increases since he gets Miami at home Oct. 17, the first time the Mountaineers will welcome a Power 5 opponent on campus.
Georgia Tech: Justin Thomas, Sr.
After a surprising Coastal title in 2014, Thomas and his team were the darlings of the preseason polls this time last year. After the offense was beset by injuries and graduation, Georgia Tech finished 3-9 Thomas took a cliff-dive on the stat sheet (1,833 total yards and 19 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 119.38 efficiency rating, 41.7 completion percentage). He’s still talented, and if the Yellow Jackets can get that offense back on track, he could give the Canes trouble when they visit Oct. 1.
Pittsburgh: Nathan Peterman, R-Sr
Pitt hurts teams with its physical running game, but Peterman, who signed with Tennessee in 2012 and transferred before last year, has proven to be reliable. He doesn’t stretch the field, ranking 10th in the ACC in yards per completion (11.8), and loses his most explosive receiver (Tyler Boyd), but ranked second in the ACC in completion percentage (61.5) and threw for 2,287 yards and 20 scores.
Duke: Thomas Sirk, R-Sr.
He was a major reason the Blue Devils were able to rebound from last Oct. 31 and win their first bowl game since 1961, and everything looked up heading into this season. Then he tore his left Achilles tendon in February. Sirk (2,625 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, eight interceptions, 803 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) believes he’ll be back in August, but if he isn’t, it’s likely he’ll face the Canes in Miami Gardens on Nov. 26.
Virginia: Matt Johns, R-Sr.
Had his moments last year, throwing for 2,810 yards and 20 touchdowns, but also led the country in interceptions (17). He’s also not a fit for new coach Bronco Mendenhall, who prefers a dual-threat guy, and lacks playmakers and depth around him.
North Carolina State: Jalan McClendon, R-Soph.
Has a big frame like Jacoby Brissett, but none of the experience. McClendon (6-5, 212) has attempted 14 passes and will be learning from new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz, formerly of Boise State.
Florida Atlantic: Jason Driskel, R-Soph. or Daniel Parr, R-Fr.
Driskel, who led two touchdown drives against Miami last year, seems to have the edge on Parr, a Dwyer High alum. Jeff’s younger brother finished 17-of-30 for 155 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions against the Canes last Sept. 11.
Florida A&M: Carson Royal, R-Sr.
The most experienced quarterback on the roster, having played in 14 games the last two seasons. However, he played tight end in the spring, making it likely junior college transfers Kenny Coleman or Vincent Jefferies (or redshirt freshman Ryan Stanley) will take over.