GREENSBORO, Ga. - Listen to defensive backs if you're looking for an indication that 2003 might be a good year for quarterbacks in the Atlantic Coast Conference. You're going to hear very little.
At the league's media kickoff event yesterday, secondary members - a group not known for caginess in their comments - took special care to remain conservative when asked to assess the league's QBs, possibly the best as a group in this young decade.
Virginia's Matt Schaub was the ACC's Player of the Year in 2002, an honor that N.C. State's Philip Rivers probably would have won if not for his team's late-season slump. They may not have played as well as Maryland's Scott McBrien over the final two months of the regular season and Florida State's Chris Rix has the most promise, though much of it unfulfilled. In all, eight of the nine schools return their starting quarterbacks.
For fear of slighting someone, the league's defensive backs usually named more than one quarterback as the league's best.
North Carolina defensive back Dexter Reid named his own quarterback, Darian Durant, each time when he was asked who are the league's best three quarterbacks.
Most of the comparisons for the league's best quarterback are between Rivers and Schaub, a pair of seniors who arrived to this point through different routes. Rivers became the Wolfpack starter in his first year and will likely become the league's career passing leader halfway through this year. Schaub didn't become a full-time starter until his fourth year in Charlottesville, when he completed 69 percent of his passes and finished sixth nationally in passing efficiency.
Wake Forest defensive back Quentin Williams wouldn't say that either quarterback is better, though he would say that they're different. He liked Rivers' decisiveness - "he makes decisions just like that" - while admiring Schaub's ability to deliver the big play when you'd least expect it. "You never know when it's going to happen, and it's going to crush you."
NOTE: Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen, who has a summer home in nearby Lake Oconee, appeared at the event using a walking cane yesterday, 10 weeks after having hip replacement surgery in May. Three weeks into his rehabilitation, Friedgen suffered a blood clot that sent him back to the hospital and delayed his healing process. Nonetheless, he said he hoped his left leg would become strong enough to get rid of the cane before the Terps begin camp Aug. 4.