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Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Ranking the ACC units: Quarterbacks

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

With about three weeks left until the start of camp, it's a good time to take a look at the top units throughout the conference. We'll start with the quarterbacks. These rankings are based most heavily on the returning starter, but also factor in the depth at the position (hence the unit ranking, not individual). It's important to keep that in mind when reading this. The backups are important, and there's not a lot of experience there throughout the league this fall. Only leading candidates are listed.

1. NC State

Starter: Russell Wilson
Backups: Mike Glennon
2008 Starter stats: Wilson completed 150 of 275 pass attempts (54.5 percent) for 1,955 yards, 17 touchdowns and one interception. He averaged 177.7 yards per game.
Analysis: Wilson's accuracy was remarkable last year, and his receivers should be even better this fall. Glennon is going to play, though, and got more work this past spring and summer because Wilson was playing baseball. Regardless of whose job it is in November, it's Wilson's to lose now, and having Glennon as a viable backup will make a huge difference in the offense.

2. Duke

Starter: Thaddeus Lewis
Backups: Sean Renfree
2008 Starter stats: Lewis completed 224 of 361 pass attempts (62 percent) for 2,171 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions. He averaged 197.4 yards per game.
Analysis: Standout receiver Eron Riley is gone, but Lewis is confident he can spread the ball around to the group of receivers he still has. Lewis' completion percentage has improved each season, while his interceptions have gone down. He's poised for a breakout season. Renfree will play, as he needs to be prepared to take over the offense next fall.

3. Wake Forest

Starter: Riley Skinner
Backups: Ryan McManus, Skylar Jones, Ted Stachitas
2008 Starter stats: Skinner completed 232 of 363 passes (63.9 percent) for 2,347 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He averaged 180.5 yards per game.
Analysis: I didn't give Skinner enough credit in my list of the ACC's top 30 players. There's no question his leadership and success makes him one of the top three quarterbacks in the league, but Wake's problem at this position is depth. The Deacs have to keep Skinner healthy, and they have the offensive line to do it this year.

4. Florida State

Starter: Christian Ponder
Backup: E.J. Manuel
2008 Starter stats: Ponder completed 177 of 318 pass attempts (55.7 percent) for 2006 yards, 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He averaged 115 yards per game.
Analysis: Offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher might be Ponder's biggest fan, especially since Ponder knows the playbook just about as well as Fisher does now. He can call his own plays and made a lot of progress this offseason, but he's obviously got to cut down on the turnovers and make some better decisions. Ponder loves to run, and he'll do it again this year.

5. Georgia Tech

Starter: Josh Nesbitt
Backups: Jaybo Shaw, Tevin Washington
2008 Starter stats: Nesbitt completed 54 of 123 pass attempts for two touchdowns, five interceptions and 808 yards. He averaged 73.5 yards per game. He rushed for 693 yards and seven touchdowns.
Analysis: Nesbitt can be one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the ACC, but he needs to remain injury-free. He missed two games and parts of others last year because of hamstring and ankle injuries. He started 11 games last year and should expand the passing game this fall. Shaw and athletic redshirt freshman Washington give the Jackets excellent depth at the position.

6. Virginia Tech

Starter: Tyrod Taylor
Backup: Joseph "Ju-Ju" Clayton
Starter stats: Taylor completed 99 of 173 pass attempts (57.2 percent) for 1,036 yards, seven interceptions and two touchdowns. He averaged 86.3 yards per game. He also was the team's second-leading rusher with 738 yards and seven touchdowns on 147 carries.
Analysis: Taylor started to turn the corner in the last four games of 2008, and the Hokies will need him to build upon that success if they are going to challenge for the national title. He's got great feet, but he's got to keep those ankles healthy this year. The improvement from his receivers should also go a long way in helping Taylor expand his game. Depth remains a question, and that's the reason the Jackets are a notch above.

7. North Carolina

Starter: T.J. Yates
Backup: Mike Paulus, Braden Hanson
Starter stats: Yates completed 81 of 135 pass attempts (60 percent) for 11 touchdowns, four interceptions, and 1,168 yards. He averaged 166.9 yards per game.
Analysis: Yates only started six games last year because he fractured his left ankle against Virginia Tech. Cam Sexton was there to hold down the fort, but that's not the case this year. Paulus struggled in Yates' absence, so depth remains a question mark.

8. Maryland

Starter: Chris Turner
Backup: Jamarr Robinson
2008 Starter stats: Turner completed 214 of 374 pass attempts (57.2 percent) for 13 touchdowns, 11 interceptions and 2,516 yards. He averaged 193.5 yards per game.
Analysis: Turner doesn't get much credit and that's probably because of his inconsistency. He's at his best against the best, but needs to play the same way against Middle Tennessee as he does against Cal. He'll get the opportunity to prove he can do that this year. The transfer of Josh Portis to Cal (Pa.) leaves depth a concern.

9. Virginia

Starter: TBD
Candidates: Jameel Sewell, Vic Hall, Marc Verica
2008 Starter stats: Verica completed 226 of 354 pass attempts (63.8 percent) for eight touchdowns, 16 interceptions and 2,037 yards. He averaged 185.2 yards.
Analysis: The Cavaliers are in a much better situation than they were at this time a year ago, but Hall is a converted cornerback, Sewell has to shake the rust off and well, you saw Verica's turnovers from last year. They all have different strengths, though, and overall the position should be better and deeper this fall, especially if Sewell returns to his 2007 form.

10. Miami

Starter: Jacory Harris
Backups: Taylor Cook, Cannon Smith
2008 Starter stats: Harris completed 118 of 194 pass attempts (60.8 percent) for 12 touchdowns, seven interceptions and 1,195 yards. He averaged 91.9 yards per game last year, but only started two games.
Analysis: Harris is a quiet leader, but in his own way he has left no doubts among the Canes that this is his offense now. Harris has adapted well to first-year offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's philosophies and should flourish under his direction. He's also got the deepest receiving corps in the ACC to throw it to. There is inexperience behind him, though, so he has to stay healthy.

11. Clemson

Starter: TBD
Candidates: Kyle Parker or Willy Korn
Backup: Michael Wade
Starter stats: N/A
Analysis: Korn has the most experience, as he played eight games (127 snaps) as Cullen Harper's backup. He's an efficient quarterback who has also shown he can run, and that's something Dabo Swinney and first-year offensive coordinator Billy Napier want their quarterback to do this fall. Parker, though, was the most impressive in the spring game. Only summer camp will reveal the answer here, but they're two good options.

12. Boston College

Starter: TBD
Candidates: Dave Shinskie, Justin Tuggle, Codi Boek
Starter stats: N/A
Analysis: The Eagles got something they needed right now in a mature leader in Shinskie. It's not a given that he'll win the starting job, but neither Tuggle nor Boek separated himself this past spring. The transfer of Dominique Davis hurt the depth at the position considerably, but it's not like Boston College lost a decorated veteran. How this position unfolds will be key in determining whether the program can stay atop the Atlantic Division.