Unsettled QB situations abound in NC

Six of the state’s seven FBS schools are unsure of next year’s starter

Michael Kern finished the season as the Demon Deacons’ starting quarterback, but Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson could look for an upgrade in the transfer portal. (Chuck Burton / AP Photo)

Football fans in the state of North Carolina may not put much weight on what Matt Rhule thinks about football, but the former Panthers head coach made waves last week.

Now at Nebraska, Rhule complained — naturally — about the cost of starting quarterbacks in college.

“Make no mistake,” Rhule said. “A good quarterback in the portal costs $1 million to $1.5 million to $2 million right now. So just so we’re on the same page, right? Let’s make sure we all understand what’s happening. There are some teams that have $6-7 million players playing for them.”

It may seem like the definition of chutzpah for Rhule, who sued to make sure the Panthers paid him all of the $34 million he was owed when he got fired (or a little more than $3 million per Carolina win he produced), to be complaining about the high cost of football talent. Rhule has a point, however.

With NIL money out of control, it will cost well into seven figures to find a good college quarterback or keep the one your team developed out of the portal.

That means that FBS teams in North Carolina will need to bring in about $12 million worth of passing talent before next season. Only one of the seven teams appears to be set at the position, with the other six still looking for answers at college football’s most important — and expensive — spot.

Here’s a look at how each team’s quarterback position stands heading into the offseason.

App State: The one team that isn’t currently shopping for a starter next season, the Mountaineers handed redshirt freshman Ryan Burger the starting job for the opener only to see him go down with an injury in the first half. Junior college transfer Joey Aguilar took over, threw a touchdown on his first FBS snap and set the school record for touchdown passes this season. Heisman candidates Bo Nix of Oregon and Jayden Daniels of LSU are the only quarterbacks with more than Aguilar’s 33 touchdown passes this year.

Duke: The Blue Devils are unsettled everywhere with the departure of coach Mike Elko. The rush to the transfer portal included QB1 Riley Leonard, who appears destined to follow Sam Hartman to Notre Dame. Leonard’s ankle injury gave Duke a head start on replacing him, however. A pair of freshmen — Henry Belin IV and Grayson Loftis — received the bulk of the playing time in the second half of the year, although Belin also went down to injury. Assuming both stay, Duke is probably in good shape for whoever takes over as coach, although if one or both transfer, depth will be a very pressing issue for the new coach to address. Four-star 2024 recruit Tyler Cherry said he’s “still committed to Duke … for now” but will monitor the coaching search.

UNC: Mack Brown confirmed that the Tar Heels will bid farewell to Drake Maye, who is leaving for the NFL Draft. They’ll also lose two of the other four quarterbacks on the roster, as sophomore Russell Tabor and junior Jefferson Boaz both hit the transfer portal. Four-star freshman Tad Hudson and three-star freshman Conner Harrell, Maye’s backup this season, remain. They’ll be joined by Max Johnson, who transferred from Texas A&M after the Aggies fired Jimbo Fisher. He’ll be a junior.

NC State: MJ Morris appeared to be the answer at quarterback, and he still might be … for someone. Morris pulled the plug on his season after four games to preserve a year of eligibility and is now in the transfer portal. Brennan Armstrong’s eligibility is expired, leaving three freshmen: preferred walk-on Ethan Rhodes, three-star Lex Thomas and the unheralded Cole Wilson. The class of 2024 has a commitment from three-star Cedric Bailey, but State will likely be shopping the portal.

Wake Forest: The first year of the post-Sam Hartman era was a near washout, and two of the three potential replacements for the program’s all-time leading passer are already in the transfer portal. Mitch Griffis, the starter for most of the year, and Santino Marucci, who came off the bench and wowed everyone for a game, both appear to be leaving. Michael Kern, who finished the season as the starter, is still on the roster, along with three-star freshman Charlie Gilliam and two preferred walk-ons — Tyler Mizzell and Trey Hoilman. Dave Clawson has a three-star commitment but will likely look to add another veteran.

East Carolina: Life without Holton Ahlers was even worse than the Hartman hangover at Wake. The Pirates had just seven touchdown passes this year with 14 interceptions. Alex Flynn, the 2023 starter, will be back for his senior season, but backup Mason Garcia is in the portal. That leaves three freshmen — three-star Raheim Jeter and preferred walk-ons Patrick Bryan and Ty Little — on the roster.

Charlotte: Three 49ers quarterbacks combined for seven touchdowns and 16 interceptions this year, so the team will likely look outside for next year’s starter. Jalon Jones and Dom Shoffner have been in college since 2019 and 2018, respectively, and Charlotte was at least the fourth stop for each. Trexler Ivey got the majority of the playing time as a sophomore. The rest of the depth chart consists of three-star freshman Carson Black, unheralded sophomore Steven Johnson and Micah Bowens, who has transferred from Penn State to Oklahoma to Charlotte without yet seeing any action on a college field.