Quarterback carousel makes stops on Tobacco Road

UNC and Duke bring back their starters, but both NC State and Wake Forest have decisions to make

Quarterback Brennan Armstrong announced he is transferring from Virginia to NC State, moving within the ACC and reuniting with former Cavaliers offensive coordinator Robert Anae, who took the same position with the Wolfpack. (Ben McKeown / AP Photo)

It was a solid year for ACC football in North Carolina with all four teams finishing with an 8-5, including two picking up bowl wins.

In particular, the quarterback position was one of the area’s biggest strengths with old records being broken and new ones being set.

But there are also some question marks on Tobacco Road as teams look to new starters.


Despite rumors buzzing around UNC’s freshman phenom quarterback Drake Maye, the youngster put all that talk to bed when he came out and reaffirmed his commitment to the Tar Heels.

In his first season, Maye finished fourth in the country in passing yards with 4,321 and tied for fifth in touchdowns with 38. Maye was also no stranger to using his feet, running for 698 yards and seven touchdowns.

Maye set multiple records, including the ACC freshman single-season record for passing yards, UNC’s record for passing yards and touchdowns in a single season, and he was named the ACC Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and earned ACC first-team honors.

With the exit of top receiver Josh Downs and the arrival of a new offensive coordinator, Maybe will need to adjust in his second season as the Tar Heels’ starter.

The other Tobacco Road quarterback who will be sticking around is Duke’s Riley Leonard.

Under new head Mike Elko, the dual-threat quarterback threw for 2,967 yards, 20 touchdowns and just six interceptions while picking up 699 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground.

Leonard’s 3,666 yards of total offense this season were the second most in a single season by a Duke quarterback — 47 short of Anthony Dilweg’s 1988 record of 3,713.

The Blue Devils have found some magic with Elko and Leonard and could position themselves to be one of the favorites in the conference next season.


After five seasons with the Demon Deacons, quarterback Sam Hartman will be leaving the school and conference, transferring to become the new starter at Notre Dame.

After returning from an offseason surgery in which he had one of his ribs removed, Hartman still managed to throw for 38 touchdowns and 3,701 yards. He did, however, throw 12 interceptions, including a few at critically inopportune times.

Hartman finished his Deacons career as the top quarterback in Wake Forest history in career passing yards (12,967) and touchdowns (110), and he even stuck around long enough to lead Wake to a 27-17 win over Missouri in the Gasparilla Bowl.

The Deacons will be handing the reins to rising sophomore Mitch Griffis. Griffis started one game for Wake Forest this season before Hartman’s return, throwing for 298 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.


After a disastrous year with Virginia, Brennan Armstrong announced his intent to transfer to NC State and reunite with former offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

The Pack lost Devin Leary to the transfer portal as the quarterback took his final year of eligibility to Kentucky, leaving coach Dave Doeren with an inexperienced quarterback room of MJ Morris and Ben Finley.

Enter Armstrong, who brings a lot of that game experience and also has familiarity with Anae’s systems — his best years with the Cavaliers were under NC State’s new OC.

Armstrong had three seasons as the starter at UVA, combining for 8,776 yards and 56 touchdowns through the air and 1,174 yards and 20 touchdowns on the ground.

However, Armstrong has had 10-plus interceptions in each of his three years as a starter and struggled last season, throwing for just seven touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

The high volume of turnovers is a concern, but Armstrong’s 2021 season under Anae, when he threw for 4,449 yards and 31 touchdowns, is a reason for optimism.

NC State just has to hope that Armstrong’s addition doesn’t discourage Morris, who many had pegged as the heir apparent to the starting job.