The ACC had quite a 2016.
It boasts a Heisman winner (Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson) and a national finalist: Clemson, which plays Alabama on Monday for the title. Entering that game, the league’s teams are 8-3 in bowls. No other conference can match that. It could have five programs in the final rankings: the Tigers, Florida State, Virginia Tech, Miami and probably Louisville, despite its loss to LSU.
Change comes yearly in college, but the ACC will be a different league next season.
Especially on the Coastal side.
As pointed out by Roanoke Times writer Andy Bitter in a tweet, there’s a lot of change coming. Two top quarterbacks are leaving school early (Miami’s Brad Kaaya and Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans) and North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky is expected to join them. Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas and Pitt’s Nathan Peterman are graduating. Not only does Pitt lose Peterman, its offensive coordinator, Matt Canada, is heading to LSU, and standout running back James Conner is turning pro. Virginia Tech will also lose top wideouts Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges to the draft.
So where does Miami fit in? The Hurricanes must answer questions at quarterback, along with defensive back, offensive line and to a lesser extent, the offensive skill positions.
Especially for a Mark Richt team, it all starts with the quarterback.
After Kaaya’s announcement Monday evening, a look at who could challenge for the starting job:
Will be a: redshirt freshman
As a recruit: four-star from Palmetto High; No. 6 pro-style QB (ESPN), No. 8 (247), No. 9 (Rivals)
Size: 6-foot-5, 200 pounds
Stats: (two pre-spring game scrimmages in 2016) 13 yards on 2-for-5 passing; (senior year) more than 1,400 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions on 62.1 percent passing
Skills: height, arm strength, accuracy
Needs to improve: poise, size, decision-making
Breakdown: Similar to Kaaya, Allison was a top-10 national QB recruit with prototypical size and throwing ability, and is a rhythm passer who, when protected, can pick apart a defense. He just hasn’t made the instant impact Kaaya did. To be fair, Miami planned to redshirt Allison this year, with the thought he would take over for Kaaya in 2017 or 2018. And he did show improvement this fall, according to coaches (he won a pair of scout-team player of the week awards). Allison finds himself facing a critical spring, since he didn’t exactly light it up last camp and the Hurricanes’ two incoming freshmen have impressive skills. If he doesn’t win the job, his future at UM is in question.
Will be a: true freshman (likely enrolling in May)
As a recruit: four-star from Ocala-Vanguard High No. 3 dual-threat quarterback (ESPN), No. 6 (247), No. 9 (Rivals)
Size: 6-foot-3, 175 pounds
Stats: (senior all-star game) 11-of-16 for 152 yards and a touchdown, 40 yards rushing in FACA North-South All-Star game; (junior year) 2,510 yards, 33 touchdowns, three interceptions on 58 percent passing
Skills: athleticism, playmaking, running ability
Needs to improve: mechanics, accuracy
Breakdown: Perry has the highest ceiling of anyone in the six-man race. UM coaches privately compare his potential to that of Watson and Jackson, in the sense that he can make plays in or out of the pocket and pull rabbits out of his hat when things break down. And he is Richt’s hand-picked quarterback, along with fellow recruit Cade Weldon; the rest of the quarterbacks were brought in by Al Golden. However talented he may be, Perry is a raw prospect at this stage, with a lanky frame, long motion and a strong, but inconsistent arm. He is the caliber of athlete Miami hasn’t had at the position in some time, but how quickly can he be ready?
Will be a: true freshman (enrolling in January)
As a recruit: three-star from Tampa-Jefferson High, No. 18 pro-style QB (Rivals), No. 23 (ESPN), No. 37 (247)
Size: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds
Stats: (senior year) 3,135 yards, 19 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 61 percent completion rate; 368 rushing yards, one touchdown
Skills: ESPN called him a “heady pocket passer” who “plays with moxie” and is accurate all over the field. He also reportedly runs in the 4.6-second range in the 40-yard dash.
Needs to improve: arm strength, overall strength, overall knowledge
Breakdown: The son of former Florida State and NFL quarterback Casey Weldon — who played for then-Seminoles quarterback coach Richt — Weldon has taken a backseat to Perry in the hype department. He is a talented recruit in his own right, with good bloodlines and plenty of ability. Oh, and confidence: He told Canesport he “absolutely” feels he can win the starting job. “Not saying anything bad about the other quarterbacks, but I think I have a strong chance to go and prove people wrong,” he said. He fell off the radar for many schools when he missed all but a few plays of his junior year with a torn ACL and MCL. He told 247Sports his confidence increased throwing downfield as a senior, and “felt pretty good about how I was running the ball” after improving his strength. “I was able to be more physical,” he said. It’s unclear if he’ll be a designed-run guy, but should be able to buy time in the pocket. Enrolling early will only help his case.
Will be a: redshirt junior
As a recruit: three-star from Mobile (Ala.) Faith Academy; No. 22 dual-threat QB (Rivals), No. 27 (247), No. 45 (ESPN)
Size: 6-foot-1, 215 pounds
Stats: (2015 and 2016 combined) 370 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions on 31-of-61 passing
Skills: arm strength, mobility
Needs to improve: accuracy
Breakdown: The only one on the roster with game experience, Rosier is best remembered for his only college start: a thrilling win at Duke on Oct. 31, 2015 in which he went 20-of-29 for 272 yards and two touchdowns. He piled up most of his career stats in that game. This past season, Kaaya’s two-year backup saw action in the final minutes of blowout wins over Florida A&M (19-yard rushing touchdown), Appalachian State (17-yard completion) and Duke (46-yard rush). Rosier, a talented athlete who played as a reserve on UM’s baseball team, tried to impress his new football coaches last spring. Richt said at the time Rosier had “a tendency to want to do something heroic. I keep telling him I don’t need a hero, I need someone to run the system. … Most great plays are just a normal play that they do at an extraordinary time.” Can he settle into a starting role, or is he a career backup?
Will be a: redshirt sophomore
As a recruit: three-star from Jefferson (Ga.) High; No. 61 pro-style QB (247), not rated (Rivals, ESPN)
Size: 6-foot-5, 210 pounds
Stats: (2016 spring game) 11 yards, interception on 1-of-5 passing; (senior year) more than 2,000 yards, with 39 touchdowns and four interceptions
Skills: footwork, smarts
Needs to improve: arm strength, mobility
Breakdown: None of the backups — Rosier included — impressed when seen live last spring, but Shirreffs drew praise from the coaching staff for his footwork and intelligence. According to UM staffers, he was the leader of the four backups for most of camp last August, but in UM’s final scrimmage, he fumbled several snap exchanges and forced several throws. A hand injury also contributed to him sliding behind the pack. He’s sharp — a high school valedictorian who scored a 32 on his ACT and had a 4.0 GPA — but wasn’t a full-time starter until his senior year. Georgetown, Old Dominion and Eastern Michigan were his only offers until Miami scooped him up a few days after signing day, 2015. He’s got some talent, but is he good enough to play at a high-major school? We’ll see.
Will be a: redshirt junior
As a recruit: not rated, out of Tampa-Jesuit High
Size: 6-foot-2, 200 pounds
Stats: (2016 spring game) 4 yards on 1-for-6 passing; (2014, true freshman at Texas Tech) 116 yards on 15-of-26 passing with an interception as backup vs. Texas; (senior year, high school) 1,015 yards, nine touchdowns on 90-of-167 passing
Skills: smarts, decision-making
Needs to improve: overall skills
Breakdown: The son of UM legend Vinny Testaverde was a basketball player growing up, and started playing football in 2012 as a high school junior. His father’s connection with Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury — they spent time together on the New York Jets — scored him a walk-on spot with the Red Raiders, and he worked his way up the depth chart to the second string. After transferring as a walk-on to UM, he drew praise behind the scenes for “not burning the house down,” and making good decisions in closed practices last August. “Probably the least talented of the four,” one staffer said at the time of Testaverde. “He doesn’t make ‘wow’ plays but after you grade the film … you’re like, damn, kid played pretty good.” It’s hard to see a walk-on overtaking five scholarship players for the job, but he’ll get a shot.