At QB, passing the baton

Quarterbacks: In a conference filled with changes in the pocket, don't expect inexperienced leaders to hit the ground running in full stride.

College Football '05

The Acc

September 01, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

If there's a position that stands out in the Atlantic Coast Conference going into the 2005 season, it's quarterback. There aren't many proven ones, and that could lead to some surprising results.

Start with Monday night's Miami-Florida State game in Tallahassee, a marquee matchup featuring nationally ranked teams that will each start a relative newcomer at quarterback.

Miami sophomore Kyle Wright has taken over for Brock Berlin while redshirt freshmen Xavier Lee and Drew Weatherford will likely go into the season sharing the position left vacant by junior Wyatt Sexton, who has Lyme disease. But the situation that the Hurricanes and Seminoles find themselves in is common throughout the conference: Eight of the 12 teams will use quarterbacks with fewer than 11 starts.

"It puts a premium for everybody on solid defense and on special teams because there's going to be some unpredictability at quarterback for a lot of teams," said Hurricanes coach Larry Coker.

Said Clemson senior quarterback Charlie Whitehurst, "I think this conference is very strong defensively right now, and I wouldn't want to be a rookie quarterback."

Even some quarterbacks with experience have raised questions going into this season.

After being suspended from school last year, will Virginia Tech's Marcus Vick keep up a recent tradition of strong quarterback play that began with his brother Michael and continued through last season with Bryan Randall?

Will Whitehurst recover from a disappointing season in Death Valley and make the Tigers this year's surprise team?

Will Virginia's Marques Hagans be more consistent than he was for the Cavaliers a year ago?

Will Wright be able to hold on to his job, or will he be replaced by his backup, redshirt freshman Kirby Freeman?

Will Boston College's Quinton Porter shake off the year's rust that accumulated while he redshirted after losing the starting job last season to Paul Peterson?

Understudies emerge

Will career backups, such as North Carolina's Matt Baker, shine as starters? Most look at Baker as an inexperienced quarterback, but the 6-foot-3, 210-pound senior and his coach don't view him that way. Playing behind Darian Durant just didn't give Baker much of a chance to play Saturdays.

"I have a lot of confidence in him, and he has a lot of confidence in himself, and the reason is because he's been preparing for this moment," said Tar Heels coach John Bunting. "He's tough, smart, every skill you need to be a great quarterback. The only thing he lacks is experience, and that's it.

"What's important for Matt is to get off and do things well, the first, second, third, fourth games. He won't be perfect; he'll throw a pick. All the other judgments, decisions he makes during the course of those first three games, I think he'll do those things and have a great season."

Baker, who has played in a total of 12 games his first three years in Chapel Hill, including six last year, doesn't think he has a lot of pressure replacing a player who broke 51 school records.

"In past years, it seemed like it was moving a lot faster, whereas last year I'd come in games and - it wasn't as easy as playing back in high school, but it was almost as comfortable," Baker said. "In terms of being nervous or scared or inexperienced, it's not that at all. There's nothing I haven't seen."

That's sort of the way Hagans felt last year after replacing Matt Schaub. Though Hagans finished last season second in the ACC in passing efficiency, he was less effective after getting hurt in his team's sixth game.

"The main thing is that I feel more comfortable," said Hagans, a senior. "Being able to go the whole season at quarterback, it was fun. I had my ups and downs. I learned a lot, but the main thing is that I got comfortable and all the guys got comfortable playing with me."

Will he, Whitehurst and Georgia Tech's Reggie Ball have an advantage over the less-experienced quarterbacks in the league, such as Maryland's Sam Hollenbach and Wake Forest's Ben Mauk?

"Maybe a little bit, but I don't think it'll last for long," Hagans said. "Once the season starts, everyone is pretty much on the same level. A new quarterback might not have the experience, but after the first game, all the jitters are gone and you just play football."

Baker knows there will be an adjustment.

"You can watch film and I can tell you what defenses a team is in and when a blitz is coming, but it's different on the field and people start moving around," he said. "That's nothing you can learn by sitting around watching. It's going to have to come in practice. Each game I'll get better as I see more defenses."

Unknown quantities

From a defensive standpoint, you would think that facing a team with an inexperienced quarterback is a plus. But that's not the way all-conference defensive end Darryl Tapp of Virginia Tech sees it.

"There's nothing scarier than the unknown," Tapp said. "It's not going to be too scary to go against Marques [Hagans] because we know what he's capable of doing. I'd rather go play somebody like him than play somebody who's completely new to a school because you're not sure what they can do and by the time you figure it out, the game might be over, so you have to quickly adapt."

Making big plays might not be as important as not making mistakes.

"You need to have a successful quarterback who doesn't turn the ball over to win games," Baker said. "I think you're going to find this year that the team that turns it over the least is going to win the most games in the ACC. Obviously, the timing of the defense is going to have a big part of it."

Said Whitehurst: "The way college football is now, the talent is evening out. You like to make big plays, you like to throw the deep balls for touchdowns every game, but the fact of the matter is, it's who doesn't mess it up."

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