By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 27, 2009
GREENSBORO, N.C., July 26 -- Six quarterbacks gathered at separate tables in a resort ballroom, making up nearly half of the offensive representatives at the ACC Football Kickoff. If ever the ACC needed evidence -- or perhaps, encouragement -- that this year will be different than last year, the quarterbacks in the room are the reason.
Quarterbacking in the ACC during 2008 was as steady as Brett Favre's retirement plans. Ten of 12 teams started more than one quarterback because of either injury or inconsistency. The three Washington region schools in the ACC -- Maryland, Virginia and Virginia Tech -- each finished the season with a different quarterback than the opening day starter.
Ten ACC teams return their final-game starter from 2008: Maryland's Chris Turner; Virginia's Vic Hall, a converted cornerback; Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor; North Carolina State's Russell Wilson, who was first-team all-ACC last season; Duke's Thaddeus Lewis; Florida State's Christian Ponder; North Carolina's T.J. Yates; Georgia Tech's Josh Nesbitt; Miami's Jacory Harris; and Wake Forest's Riley Skinner.
"I really feel that it puts everybody's mind at ease knowing there's no quarterback competition going into the week of the first game," Maryland cornerback Nolan Carroll said. "To know that [Turner is] our guy going into the spring, it says a lot. It makes everyone feel comfortable. It makes our coach feel comfortable. It makes our fans feel comfortable."
Turner, who has had three coordinators in his career at Maryland, has started games during the last two seasons but this is the first time he's the starter entering the season. Jordan Steffy earned the starting role after last season's preseason camp, but an injury transferred the job to Turner in the second week.
"Everybody looks at me as a role model, as someone who is kind of a consistent sort of factor that we haven't had in the past," Turner said. "We never knew going into the year about the quarterback position. But going in this year as the starter, it's a lot of responsibility."
Virginia Tech opened 2008 with Sean Glennon at quarterback, but Taylor replaced him after two games. Virginia opened the season with Peter Lalich, who lost his job after he was dismissed from the team. Marc Verica took over for the Cavaliers, although Hall started the season's final game against Virginia Tech. Virginia also returns 2007 starter Jameel Sewell, who missed 2008 because of academic suspension.
"I feel like last season, we didn't have an experienced quarterback," Hall said. "It's the total opposite this year. I think that's going to be a big upside for us."
The unstable quarterbacking plagued a league that finished with only one 10-game winner in 2008 and had six teams finish 4-4 in the conference. ACC Commissioner John Swofford brags about 10 ACC teams reaching a bowl, although he also acknowledged that the conference lacked a national championship contender. Each of the nation's top six teams in 2008 featured steady starting quarterbacks, including the three Heisman Trophy finalists and a top five NFL draft pick.
Virginia Tech, which will likely be announced as the conference's frontrunner on Monday, enters the season with national championship aspirations. It is not a coincidence that both Carroll and Clemson defensive end Ricky Sapp said Taylor is the toughest quarterback to defend in the ACC.
Taylor is the unequivocal Hokies starter after battling Glennon each of the past two seasons. The role forces Taylor to become a leader, but it also alters the way his teammates look at him. He has experienced what Turner witnessed: the increased accountability that comes with being a surefire starter.
"One of the biggest things about quarterbacking -- other than the physical ability of a quarterback -- is the leadership on your team, the confidence and the support you have from the people around you on offense and defense," Skinner said. "Once you have that guy who has put in the work, has shown their part of the team, has shown they go to war with you everyday, you end up gaining the confidence and support of everybody around you. I think it's a huge difference maker once you solidify that spot."
Skinner, a four-year starter, has witnessed dozens of starting quarterbacks pass through the conference. He is excited about the group this season, especially because all but Clemson and Boston College have entrenched players in the spot.
A quarterback's presence at the ACC Football Kickoff does not promise prominence -- Glennon represented the Hokies in 2008, and Clemson's Cullen Harper sank from preseason player of the year to the bench -- but it is a signal of improved fortunes for the conference. Stable quarterbacking is often an indication of consistency, which can help a conference accused of mediocrity elevate to one of the nation's best.
"If the coach is comfortable with you, then the team is going to be comfortable with you," Lewis said. "I'm pretty sure this year, everyone has found their guy, and there will be a lot of stability at quarterback here in the ACC."