Nothing says summer like spending a warm, sunny late-June afternoon immersed in college football.
Yeah, it’s baseball season, but the Pirates (both the Pittsburgh and East Carolina varieties) were off Thursday. What better time to prepare for the season than curling up with Athlon’s College Football preview issue?
The intent was to study the 14 ACC teams to determine — among other questions — how Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett stacks up among his colleagues at the position. Pickett’s performance in all of four games last season raised high hopes among many Pitt fans, and he did show admirable cool in the upset of then-No. 2 Miami.
But are the expectations on Pickett unreasonable?
The man (I really hate the word kid) has thrown one collegiate touchdown pass. He turned 20 less than a month ago. His pass catchers have a lot to prove. The offensive line is undergoing serious reconstruction. Turns out, Pickett is one of the least experienced quarterbacks in the ACC.
But he has talent and a presence. There is plenty of reason for hope.
Meanwhile, here is a personal preseason ranking of all 14 ACC teams’ quarterback situations, with the presumed starter. Feel free to disagree, but opinions are likely to change when the games begin in two months.
1. N.C. State, senior Ryan Finley
Hard to pick anyone else as the ACC’s best quarterback. This will be Finley’s sixth season in Raleigh, and his three top receivers and three OL starters return. He threw for 3,518 yards last season, tops among the conference’s returning quarterbacks.
2. Syracuse, senior Eric Dungey.
The good news for Orange fans is Dungey has been a three-year starter. The bad news is he has yet to finish a season healthy. By the way, he wasn’t the quarterback who threw for 440 yards and five touchdowns against Pitt in 2016. But he did beat the Panthers last season, with 365 yards and two scores.
3. Clemson, senior Kelly Bryant
He threw for 2,802 yards, but he must beat back the challenge from freshman Trevor Lawrence.
4. Virginia Tech, sophomore Josh Jackson
As a freshman, Jackson only defeated Pickett and Pitt last season because he plays on a team that has an outstanding goal-line defense. But he threw for 2,991. Not bad.
5. Miami, senior Malik Rosier
This fifth-year senior might have been ranked higher without a 44.9 percent completion percentage in the final three games last season.
6. Florida State, sophomore James Blackman
The job would belong to junior Deondre Francois, but he missed most of 2017 with a knee injury that could be problematic early in the season. Blackman doesn’t make many mistakes, but he’s not as athletic as Francois.
7. Pitt, sophomore Kenny Pickett
Pitt fans wondered why it took so long for Pickett to get off the bench. But when coach Pat Narduzzi says Pickett wasn’t ready earlier, you should take him at his word — unless you were at practice and in all the quarterback meetings. Were you?
8. Georgia Tech, senior Taquon Marshall
Marshall averaged less than four completions for game, but he ran for 1,146 yards in the triple option offense that gives everyone headaches.
9. Duke, junior Daniel Jones
Jones has enough experience to be dangerous — he threw for 2,691 yardss last season — and he has three starters returning at wide receiver. Plus, Duke scored 43, 31 and 36 points over the final three games against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Northern Illinois.
10. Louisville, sophomore Jawon Pass
He has the name; if only some of Lamar Jackson rubbed off on him last season.
11. North Carolina, junior Nathan Elliott
Coach Larry Fedora needs to make a decision between Elliott and dual-threat quarterback Chazz Surratt. Elliott seized the job for the Tar Heels’ 2-2 finishing kick after a 1-7 start to the season.
12. Boston College, sophomore Anthony Brown
Whether it’s Brown or E.J. Perry, the BC quarterback will lean on running back A.J. Dillon (1,589 yards last season).
13-T. Wake Forest, junior Kendall Hinton; Virginia, junior Bryce Perkins
Hinton beat out former Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford in 2016 before suffering a knee injury. That led to Wolford finishing 12th in the nation in total offense last season. Virginia dual-threat quarterback Perkins is a junior college transfer who began his collegiate career at Arizona State.
Here are some random notes, gleaned from flipping through the pages:• Athlon lists the top 25 teams at each position, and Penn State made the cut six times: Quarterback (No. 4, with Heisman hopeful Trace McSorley looking for his third 3,000-yard season after becoming the first PSU player to do it twice); wide receiver (No. 21); offensive line and secondary (No. 15); defensive line (No. 16); and coaching (No. 11).
• West Virginia’s pitch-and-catch combo of Will Grier and David Sills are first-team preseason All-Americans.
• Penn State, West Virginia and Pitt are 11th, 22nd and 43rd in the rankings of all 130 FBS schools. Four ACC teams — No. 65 Duke, No. 66 Syracuse, No. 69 North Carolina and No. 81 Virginia — are ranked behind Pitt, and the Panthers play them all.
• That offsets these five Pitt opponents: No. 6 Miami, No. 11 Penn State, No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 31 Central Florida.
• Former Pitt defensive coordinator Josh Conklin’s Wofford team is ranked No. 16 in the FCS, with All-American candidate Miles Brown, 6-foot-2, 320 pounds, on the defensive line. • He said it: “One of the things, very frankly, that we’re trying to do better around here is to talk less and deliver more.” — Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson, more than a year before he fired Todd Graham. Those of you around Pitt in 2010 might get a chuckle from that.
• In an article written by Ted Miller that is mainly focused on new Arizona State coach Herman Edwards, Anderson called Graham’s recruiting “inefficient, so disorganized, so dysfunctional.”