College Football

ACC quarterbacks are underachieving

Staff WriterOctober 7, 2010 

This was supposed to be the ACC's Year of the Quarterback.

A month into the season, we're still waiting.

N.C. State's Russell Wilson has been spectacular, notably against Georgia Tech and Cincinnati, but he was also less than average against Virginia Tech and Central Florida. That means Wilson has had as many good games against upper-level Division I teams as he has had bad games, and he has been the best the ACC has had to offer in 2010.

That wasn't supposed to be the case, with eight returning starters at quarterback and five legitimate all-league candidates. It just goes to show that when it comes to quarterbacks, there's no such thing as a sure thing.

More was expected from the Sunshine State's contingent - Florida State senior Christian Ponder and Miami junior Jacory Harris - in particular. Ponder, the league's preseason first-team pick, amounted to a no-show in his performance in the Seminoles' biggest game of the season (at Oklahoma) and has thrown for more than 200 yards only once in five games. Harris has thrown eight interceptions in the last three games, with seven touchdowns.

Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor continues to be a better runner than thrower, although he has made strides in the latter category. That didn't get the job done against Boise State or James Madison, but it might be enough to win the ACC.

Think about that for a second.

Back in August, one couldn't have found a person who would have predicted Virginia's Marc Verica would have better numbers than Clemson's Kyle Parker. Parker has been tough, especially on Sept. 18, when Auburn defenders treated his kidneys as a punching bag, but mostly he's been a half-step off. Parker turned the ball over four times in Saturday's loss to Miami and finished with a QB rating of 18.4 (Note: QB rating as a stat is almost entirely meaningless, except when it's under 20).

"He just played a bad first half, plain and simple," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said this week. "He's human."

Ponder, Harris and Parker have too much talent not to turn it around, or at least too much to not finish the season with better numbers than their current statistics.

Boston College and Wake Forest both wish their prospects at quarterback were so bright.

BC dumped 2009 starter Dave Shinskie after a slow start for freshman Chase Rettig. That experiment didn't last a half when Rettig turned his ankle in a 31-13 loss to Notre Dame, which features an Irish defense that previously had been unable to squash an ant with a shovel.

Either Mike Marscovetra or Shinskie will start against N.C. State, BC coach Frank Spaziani said.

"We're right back to square one," Spaziani said.

Which is ahead of where a reeling Wake team is. The Deacs, 2-3 with wins over Duke and Presbyterian, were spoiled by the seemingly unending career of Riley Skinner. They have used four quarterbacks in five games.

Injuries to Ted Stachitas, who won the job out of camp, and Tanner Price, the freshman who showed promise against Duke, have scrapped any preseason plans.

Skylar Jones, the QB-turned-WR-turned-QB, is back in the picture, as is Brendan Cross. Actually, everyone's in the picture at Wake. It's just a matter of who's healthy.

"Last week, we gave each quarterback a third of the reps, because we didn't know who would be the best guy in the game or who would be the most durable, and as it turned out, we needed all three," Wake coach Jim Grobe said.

Grobe still doesn't know if Jones, who has a toe injury, or Price, who's dealing with a concussion, will be able to start on Saturday against Navy.

Grobe knew going into the season he would have a scramble at quarterback without Skinner. The other 11 teams, however, all expected to be in a better position at the game's most important position.

Keeping it real: The sledding has been tougher in Year 3 than the first two for Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson, but he's not changing.

The Yellow Jackets, 3-2 with a perplexing loss to Kansas, have attempted 66 passes in five games, completing 26 them. Both of those statistics are ACC lows.

"We are going to do what we do," Johnson said earlier this week.

What Georgia Tech does is run the ball, an ACC-high 267 times for 298.2 yards per game (also an ACC best).

"If we throw and it didn't work everybody complains 'Why are you throwing? You can't throw,' " Johnson said. "All you have to do is win. If you win, it is all OK. If you don't, it's not."

Johnson's style doesn't win many news conferences or friends on his own team, but his bluntness is admirable.

"I am not trying to be their friend," he said. "I'm trying to be their coach."

It's progress anyway: For most of the 1980s and 1990s, the Miami-Florida State game was the biggest game on the national schedule.

The ACC expanded, in part, to put these two national powers together.

"This game is always a big game," said Jimbo Fisher, Florida State's first-year head coach.

Well, not always, Jimbo, at least not in recent years. For the first time in four years, both teams are ranked in the top 25.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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