Charlotte Latin product Daniel Jones is poised to turn Duke’s down year into a distant memory.
Jones was thrust into action last season after presumptive starter at quarterback, Thomas Sirk, tore his Achilles in the offseason. Jones amassed 3,322 yards of total offense – third-most by a freshman in ACC history – but Duke stumbled to a 4-8 record, marking the first losing season for head coach David Cutcliffe since 2012. Still, Cutcliffe called Jones a special talent with NFL attributes.
“I am very grateful that we have a quarterback that's a returning starter,” Cutcliffe said Friday at the ACC’s annual football media gathering at The Westin in Charlotte. “I just hope and pray we can keep him healthy.
Cutcliffe said this year’s team is the deepest and most talented he’s had in 10 seasons at Duke. That starts in the secondary, led by redshirt senior cornerback Bryon Fields Jr. – a Thorpe Award candidate and Provide Day graduate who had two interceptions and six pass breakups last season.
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Virginia: East Carolina transfer Kurt Benkert returns for his second season at quarterback after injuries marred his Virginia debut.
“He's more mobile, he's more accurate, he's more confident,” Mendenhall said . “He's certainly healthier and will need to remain so for us to continue to move the program forward.”
Pittsburgh: The Panthers (8-5) had an offense far surpassed the defense last season, highlighted by a 76-61 victory over Syracuse. But head coach Pat Narduzzi is trusting new offensive coordinator Shawn Watson to put his own spin on Pittsburgh’s diverse offense, which scored a school-record 40.9 points per game last season.
“The bar is not set there,” Narduzzi said. “Shawn has got to come in and do his thing.”
Virginia Tech: After winning ACC Coach of the Year in his first season at Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente might have a tougher task in year two.
The defending Coastal Division champion loses 11 starters – including quarterback Jerod Evans and standout pass-catchers Isiah Ford and Bucky Hodges – from last season’s 10-4 campaign. But one key returner is Charlotte native Cam Phillips, who wowed his hometown crowd with a snazzy bronze double-breasted velvet suit and flip-up aviators.
The senior receiver, who was born in Charlotte but played high school football in Maryland, ranks sixth in school history in career receiving yards (2,063) and is tied for third in receptions (165).
Miami: In Mark Richt’s first season leading his alma mater, Miami (9-4) matched its best win total since 2003. Now, it’s about restoring the dominance of years past.
The Hurricanes lost quarterback Brad Kaaya – the school’s career leader in total offense. He hasn’t chosen a starter to replace Kaaya.
“When we scrimmage, I want to see who can handle the pressure of that job,” Richt said. “I need a guy I can trust.”
Georgia Tech: Head coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option system is looking for a quarterback to replicate Georgia Tech’s 9-4 record last season.
Gone is Justin Thomas, the Yellow Jackets’ fourth-best quarterback in program history by career yardage. But Georgia Tech returns eight players on offense and defense – including redshirt junior running back Clinton Lynch, the ACC’s active leader in career rushing yards per attempt (10.3).
Johnson said the quarterback position is Matthew Jordan’s to lose.
North Carolina: For the first time in North Carolina history, a quarterback was drafted in the first round. Now, it’s Larry Fedora’s job to replace him.
Mitch Trubisky, the No. 2 pick in the 2017 NFL draft, joined All-ACC receiver Ryan Switzer and leading rusher Elijah Hood as key offensive contributors gone from a Tar Heel team that finished 8-5 in 2016.
“Our defense this year is going to … have to carry us while these young guys on offense grow up a little bit,” Fedora said.