Five weeks into the college football season, the pecking order of quarterbacks in North Carolina has been pretty well established – and upset many preseason expectations. East Carolina’s Shane Carden continues to impress, while Duke’s Anthony Boone has met with unexpected difficulties. And N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett has met the lofty expectations placed upon him. There is still plenty of football to be played, but Carden tops the list as things stand.
1. Shane Carden, East Carolina
There’s no question Carden’s numbers are inflated by the high-tempo passing attack Ruffin McNeill and Lincoln Riley brought with them from Texas Tech. There’s also no question Carden runs that offense with surgical precision, as evidenced by his play in wins over Virginia Tech and North Carolina. NFL scouts question his arm strength, but not his decision-making (excellent) or his mobility (adequate). Two critical second-half interceptions in the loss at South Carolina probably kept his name from entering the Heisman Trophy conversation, but an 11-1 record and berth in one of the CFP-affiliated bowls, most likely the Peach Bowl, might get him back into it.
2. Jacoby Brissett, N.C. State
No. 2 with a bullet. Already the protagonist in one of the college football season’s most memorable plays – shaking one Florida State defender loose from his neck and shedding another as he scrambled toward the sideline before throwing a pass across his body for a touchdown last Saturday – Brissett continues to improve in his first season for the Wolfpack after transferring from Florida. N.C. State coach Dave Doeren pinned many of his first-season problems on poor quarterback play, and Brissett has perhaps even exceeded expectations filling that void for the 4-1 Wolfpack. Although not a natural runner, he’s mobile and strong enough to dodge pressure, he and excels at distributing the ball in the short-passing game. The key number: one interception, an amazing feat in a new offense.
3. Anthony Boone, Duke
Boone may be the most baffling enigma in the state. He entered the season potentially a contender for the No. 1 spot in this debate but has struggled with accuracy and regressed as a redshirt senior. It’s an open question whether that has anything to do with Kurt Roper’s departure or with receivers coach Scottie Montgomery’s promotion to offensive coordinator to replace him, but even if the transition is an issue, it doesn’t account for Boone’s at-times questionable mechanics at this point in his career. Duke coach David Cutcliffe hinted this week that Boone might have injury issues, which might offer more of an explanation. When he’s on, as he often has been throughout his career, Boone does an excellent job throwing the deep ball to explosive playmaker Jamison Crowder and is a threat defenses must respect running the read-option. Duke needs him back at his best to defend its Coastal Division title.
4. Marquise Williams, UNC
Williams fared well taking over midseason for the injured Bryn Renner last fall then held off competition from redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky in training camp to retain the starting job this fall. Williams’ ability to run gives Larry Fedora’s offense the dual threat it needs, although the Tar Heels’ running game has been erratic overall. Williams had his best passing game of the season at Clemson, throwing four touchdowns in the loss, but he has missed first-round draft pick Eric Ebron as a bail-out target. Opposing teams have game-planned against Quinshad Davis (13 catches) and Ryan Switzer (19 catches), and Williams needs to find ways to get them the ball. Williams continues to play better than Trubisky (in limited action), but there’s certainly room for improvement.
5. John Wolford, Wake Forest
Playing quarterback in the ACC as a true freshman is tough enough as it is, let alone on the conference’s worst team in Year 1 of rebuilding under a new coach. Wolford is also doing it behind a patchwork line on an offense largely bereft of playmakers. (Three of his 10 interceptions came on receiver drops.) Wolford was sacked 21 times in the Deacons’ three losses, which makes it almost impossible to judge his performance, but the word “courage” comes up frequently. Suffice to say, it figures to be a long season for Wake Forest, and Wolford will have to endure a considerable amount of punishment before it’s over – even before he turns 19 in two weeks.