Only the ACC has kept these two talented quarterbacks apart

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones became friends in the off-season.
NC State quarterback Ryan Finley and Duke quarterback Daniel Jones became friends in the off-season.

Barring an ACC championship game appearance this December, Daniel Jones and Ryan Finley will complete their college careers without their teams facing each other.

That’s despite the fact that they play in the same league, their home stadiums lie 22 miles apart and they’ve become friends.

That’s the quirkiness of the ACC’s 14-team scheduling formula. Jones’ Duke Blue Devils and Finley’s N.C. State Wolfpack haven’t played since 2013, before either quarterback arrived on campus.

Their parallel career paths, though, find them as two of the league’s most experienced quarterbacks this season, both with NFL futures.

No ACC quarterback will begin this season with as many games started as Finley’s 26. Jones is just behind with 25, tied with Syracuse’s Eric Dungey.

The past two summers, Jones and Finley spent time together as invited counselors at the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana. They worked with high school quarterbacks, passing down their knowledge. But they also spend that week working on their own games on and off the field, gaining valuable insight from NFL quarterbacking brothers Peyton and Eli Manning as well as their father, Archie, who was an NFL quarterback.

It’s a friendly atmosphere allowing quarterbacks from around the country to connect. In the case of Jones and Finley, it allowed two guys who are close in proximity to become friends.

“He’s a really good guy,” Jones said. “I really enjoyed seeing him and hanging out with him there. He’s a good player. I look forward to watching him. That’s one good thing about the camp is we get to watch the guys we hang out with. He throws the ball well, obviously, and is a very talented player.”

As a redshirt junior last season, Finley completed 65.1 percent of his passes, throwing for 3,518 yards and 17 touchdowns. The Wolfpack went 9-4, including a sparkling 6-2 ACC record, and capped the season with a 52-31 romp over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

Jones rushed for 518 yards and threw for 2,691 yards as a redshirt sophomore for Duke last season. He threw for 14 touchdowns and ran for seven more as Duke went 7-6 overall (3-5 in ACC) and beat Northern Illinois 36-14 in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Though their teams never play, Jones and Finley often see each other’s games when reviewing game films to scout upcoming opponents.

“We watch each other,” Finley said. “I’ll watch almost every single game that we have on whoever we are playing that week and a lot of times Daniel is in the game. I’ll catch myself watching him and evaluating him and seeing what I like about his game.”

Finley said he told Jones he’s learned from watching him run the ball. Jones gave him an “aw, shucks” response, but Finley was serious.

“He’s just a big body, he just runs really well,” Finley said. “He’s just always falling forward for yards downhill. He’s just a real smart runner, which I think has always kind of been one of my weaknesses.”

Jones, meanwhile, can learn from Finley’s accuracy.

Over his two seasons as N.C. State’s starting quarterback following his transfer from Boise State, Finley has completed 63 percent of his throws. He has 35 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.

In two seasons as Duke’s starter, Jones’ career completion percentage is 59.7 with 30 touchdown passes and 20 interceptions.

Jones also benefited from extra time around Eli Manning, who comes to Duke each spring for off-season work with Duke coach David Cutcliffe, his college coach at Mississippi. Manning often throws to Duke’s receivers before his New York Giants receivers come to Duke to join the workouts.

Watching Manning’s work there and at the camp in Louisiana, Jones plans to implement the tips he picked up to improve his game this season.

“You look at the things he’s done,” Jones said. “How detailed he was in his destinations, how he talks to those guys is all very valuable education for me. His whole approach to the game, his preparation, is just cool to see up close.”

As experienced quarterbacks, Jones and Finley were natural choices to represent their schools at the ACC Kickoff media event in Charlotte last week and reached out to each other about getting together again while in town.

But the ACC’s format, like its scheduling, kept them apart.

Jones was in town Tuesday night and Wednesday with the Coastal Division representatives before heading back to Durham. Finley arrived Wednesday night, after Jones had departed, to be in town for Thursday’s Atlantic Division sessions.

“I was disappointed,” Finley said last Thursday. “I’d forgotten that he had gone yesterday.”

Perhaps they can meet in Charlotte in a few months, on Dec. 1, when the Atlantic and Coastal division champs play for the ACC championship at Bank of America Stadium.