The way North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner tells the story, he and NC State quarterback Mike Glennon were playing against each other in a JV basketball game when Renner was a freshman and Glennon a sophomore. Renner hit a 3-pointer and Glennon hit him in the nose and broke it.
“I had 45 (points),” Renner said with a smile. “You ask him about it. I was on fire.”
The two rivals are still friends, and they’re just as competitive now as they were then. The difference this year is that they’ve got company -- lots of it.
For the first time in league history, the ACC returns six quarterbacks who have thrown for 3,000 yards in a season. No other conference in the country can claim that. What makes this group special, though, is its combination of talent, competitiveness and camaraderie. These guys are good -- collectively good enough to raise the profile of the entire conference -- but they also genuinely like each other. They text each other, and many of them share a history, much like Renner and Glennon. Half of the teams in the ACC will have a starting quarterback from the state of Virginia.
Although the ACC fairly recently has produced several elite quarterbacks, like Florida State’s Christian Ponder and Boston College’s Matt Ryan, the defensive conference isn’t exactly known for its quarterback play.
This season could change that perception.
“From top to bottom, there’s going to be so many quarterbacks deserving of getting all-conference that it’s going to be hard to give it out to one, two or three, but I don’t worry about that,” Glennon said. “I just worry about NC State and us winning games, but definitely this is a great quarterback conference. It’s going to be fun to watch other teams and I think defenses are going to see how good some of the quarterbacks are this year.
“There’s definitely been talent that's come through here, but this is probably stronger than other years.”
Which quarterback is the best? It depends on whom you ask. Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas got the most votes of any quarterback for the league’s preseason Player of the Year (19), but he only got two more votes than Florida State's EJ Manuel and three more than Clemson’s Tajh Boyd.
Boyd (3,828), Renner (3,086), Glennon (3,054), Thomas (3,013) and Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price (3,017) all threw for more than 3,000 yards last year. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 3,131 in 2010.
“It was either my first or second year and I was sitting here and somebody was talking about how bad the ACC quarterbacks were, that we didn’t have any,” NC State coach Tom O’Brien said at ACC media days. “Now all of a sudden we’ve got them all.”
NC State safety Earl Wolff said he was most impressed with Manuel last year.
“Last year, EJ Manuel kind of killed us,” Wolff said of the 34-0 loss to the Seminoles. “That was a bad game overall. But I don’t expect that to happen this year.”
Manuel returned the respect to Glennon, whom he has known since the 10th grade.
“Mike has definitely grown from when we were at the Elite 11 in the 11th grade until now,” Manuel said. “Obviously he’s a great friend of mine. Mike is great. Tajh Boyd is great. He kind of torched us last year. Logan Thomas, a big guy, he got better each and every game last year. If you go back and watch his first games and at the end of the season, he got a lot better as a quarterback.”
Manuel has known Boyd since the sixth grade. He met Thomas last year and they’ve kept in touch. Manuel also knows Alabama transfer Phil Sims, who has a chance to play at Virginia this year. Cavaliers starter Michael Rocco is also from the state of Virginia.
“I think we’ll be a very strong conference,” Thomas said. “We’ll have strong quarterback play, and we’re always known for strong defensive play. I think it’s going to be fun to see what we do. We’re just going to try to outplay each other every week.”
Manuel enters this season with a streak of 121 passes without an interception. Wake’s Price has thrown 173 straight passes without an interception, the seventh-longest such streak in ACC history.
“I think it’s great,” Price said of the position’s depth in the conference. “I think it’s fun to see how successful all of these quarterbacks have been and it’s fun to compete against such great players and talented athletes. It’s fun to get to brag about how many good quarterbacks there are in the ACC and how I get to play against them.
"Typically if your quarterback is good, your team will be successful. Being that there are so many good, talented quarterbacks in the league, it’s going to make the conference a lot better.”