By Dave Glenn
April 21, 2003 When Maryland completes its spring drills with a camp-ending scrimmage on Saturday, all nine ACC schools will have officially made the transition to the offseason. As always, some teams have more questions than others, but the most important position on the field again will go a long way toward determining the conference standings this fall. Here's a look at each team's post-spring quarterback situation, from strongest to weakest, with a heavy emphasis on the identity of the starter:
- N.C. State: How good is rising senior Philip Rivers? So good that when Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato was interviewing potential offensive coordinators to replace Marty Galbraith (NFL), he made clear that the new coach would have to adapt to Rivers, not the other way around. So good that Rivers watched most of spring drills from the sidelines, as backups Jay Davis and Chris Moore took most of the snaps, because the staff knows exactly what the incumbent can do and Rivers already knows the offense like the back of his hand.
"(New coordinator Noel Mazzone) is going to learn the N.C. State offense," Amato said. "Philip is not going to learn his offense. He is going to learn Philip's offense."
Davis, a redshirt sophomore, edged out Moore, a redshirt freshman, for the No. 2 spot. Neither player was outstanding, however, which left the door open for August arrival and prep All-American Marcus Stone. Regardless, Rivers must stay healthy if the Pack is going to achieve its lofty 2003 goals.
2. Virginia: It's difficult to put the returning ACC player of the year second on any list of this sort, but 2002 surprise Matt Schaub must deal with the transition from star coordinator Bill Musgrave (NFL) to 33-year-old elevated offensive line coach Ron Prince. The switch seemed to go smoothly in March and April, so perhaps Schaub can come close to his amazing numbers from last fall: 69 percent completions, 2,976 yards, 28 touchdowns.
"I knew things wouldn't change for us as far as our terminology and style of play," Schaub said. "Maybe minor alterations here and there, but I was comfortable with (Prince) and how we were going to play as a team. In that respect, not much is changing for me personally."
Virginia coach Al Groh made a bold move that affected the QB rotation this spring when he switched redshirt sophomore Marques Hagans, a starter behind center early last season, to receiver full-time. The Cavaliers hope to take advantage of Hagans' amazing quickness in the passing game and on returns this fall. That bumped redshirt freshman Anthony Martinez into the No. 2 slot at QB, pending the arrival of prep All-American Kevin McCabe in August. Nobody else is even close to ready.
3. Florida State: The Seminoles always have built their success around productive quarterbacks under Bobby Bowden, and the team's slump over the past two seasons reflected an interruption in the clock-like system of successors that had been in place for many years. The 2003 season will mark the fourth year in the system for redshirt junior Chris Rix, who was forced into a starting role prematurely two years ago, and Year Four traditionally is when FSU quarterbacks are ready for big things.
"We were unstable at quarterback the past two seasons after 14 years of great stability," Bowden said. "Jared Jones was scheduled to become the starter in 2001, but I had to put him off the ballclub for disciplinary reasons. (Chris) Rix wasn't ready, but we had to go with him. Last season, if we'd had (Charlie) Ward or (Chris) Weinke, my guess is that our record would've been closer to 12-2. Now, in spring practice 2003, we do see a Rix who gives every indication of now being ready to handle the job."
The concern for FSU fans is that coaches and teammates said similarly positive things about Rix last summer, but they proved to be inaccurate in the fall, when turnovers and personality conflicts again left the Seminoles reeling. Rix showcased his impressive athleticism and strong arm this spring, and he made fewer mistakes and better decisions than in previous years, as he displayed more patience in the pocket. He'd better be on top of his game this time, because his backups redshirt freshman Wyatt Sexton (impressive but inexperienced), redshirt junior Fabian Walker (sore shoulder), redshirt freshman Lorne Sam (back to receiver?) and recruited walk-on David Koral aren't ready for the spotlight.
4. Maryland: Senior Scott McBrien doesn't overwhelm anyone with his size (6-0, 180), speed or strength, but he's a very good fit for the complex offense of head coach and resident genius Ralph Friedgen. During the course of the 2002 season, McBrien eventually excelled in most areas that are at or near the top of his coach's checklist: changing plays correctly at the line of scrimmage, avoiding turnovers, selling play-action fakes, running the option efficiently, throwing accurately and showing leadership skills.
"Scott played very well for us last year, particularly over the last 10 games of the season," Friedgen said. "His strength last year was running play-action. This year I'm looking for him to become a better dropback passer and also improve in the option game. He's a lot more mobile than people give him credit for, and he has an extremely strong arm. I look for him to have a very fine senior season."
As with most other programs in the ACC this season, there is a significant dropoff between the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks. Last year's backup in College Park, oft-injured Chris Kelley, moved to strong safety after three seasons of frustration behind center. Another former backup, senior Latrez Harrison, is a starter at wideout. Near the conclusion of spring drills, redshirt freshman Joel Statham held a slight edge over redshirt freshman Sam Hollenbach. Junior college transfer Orlando Evans, who has struggled with injuries and decision-making since arriving last summer, was running a distant fourth.