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Freshman Quarterback Review, Part One: ACC

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One of the regular assumptions here and elsewhere holds that, whatever a player's performance as a freshman, automatically add major gains to his sophomore projections. He had no idea what he was doing; now he does. Hence: he will be better. He'll probably be awesome, in fact, since who's good enough to start despite having no idea what he's doing? Someone awesome.

Since it's June, and we're just chugging along here, I'm going to spend the next couple weeks testing that assumption – not challenging it, necessarily, but testing it – as it relates to quarterbacks. On what basis, besides their preseason assurances that they're "light-years ahead of this time last year," can we assume young passers are going to improve?

Beginning with the ACC, that basis is "He was terrible to begin with." See freshman starters in the conference since 2000, ordered by their first-year passer rating (blue is better, red is worse):


Rix: Future so bright...
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Of the nine guys on this list, five – Rix, Durant, Skinner, Rivers and Weatherford – were at least respectable by conference-wide standards; the first three guys on the list, Rix, Durant and Skinner, actually topped all upperclassmen in passer rating their first years (Rix and Skinner led the league in efficiency; Durant was second to Rix). Of that five, only Rivers, the cream of the crop, the only future draft pick of the lot, was more effective as a sophomore. None of the others came close to improving, though Durant might have, if he hadn't gotten hurt about three-quarters of the way through his second season in 2002 (the NCAA bizarrely excludes Durant from its final rankings for that season, though he had way more than enough attempts to qualify; it also lists his backup, C.J. Stephens, who didn't play nearly as much).

The passers who did improve as sophomores were guys who completely stunk up the joint as freshmen, and for the most part – with the exception of Thad Lewis last year, who persevered as Duke's only hope – were at the bottom of the pack again. That's probably the most striking thing on display here: quarterbacks generally are who they are, from the beginning. Except for Rix, who plummeted the rest of his career, and Rivers, who soared, freshman performance was a remarkably reliable indicator of future returns. Unless you've got a bona fide, next-level talent like Rivers, rampant optimism is probably misplaced.

In keeping with that, looking at last year's freshman starters in the ACC, Virginia Tech is probably in line for rewarding improvement from a hyped athlete like Tyrod Taylor, whereas North Carolina can probably expect T.J. Yates to more or less flatline unless Greg Little or whoever turns the woeful UNC running game into some kind of threat.

Of course, that's only the ACC, and only nine players over the course of seven seasons; trend-bucking is certain to follow in the other conferences. Stay tuned, as they say.