NATE PETERMAN’S CONTINUED EVOLUTION WILL BE THE KEY TO PITT WINNING THE ACC COASTAL DIVISION.
Your level of optimism about the 2016 Pitt Panthers may have a lot to do with how much you believe in Nate Peterman.
Maybe you don’t at all. Maybe you think with Jim Chaney gone, Peterman will regress, fall out of favor, or eventually lose his job.
You shouldn’t. The quarterback position should still belong to Peterman in 2016. Peterman’s first year as the Panther quarterback was definitely more good than bad. His completion percentage was 61.5. His TD to interception ratio was 20-8 (15-1 in conference play). His record as a starter was 6-5.
But if your rationale is to assume improvement just because a starter at QB is returning, you are going to have to look beyond the experience column. Because almost every team in the ACC Coastal is also returning experience at the sport’s most important position. Here’s a look at the rest of the QB’s in Pitt’s division, and how experience appears to be a theme across the board.
NO LACK OF EXPERIENCE AMONG ACC COASTAL QB’S
MIAMI (BRAD KAAYA): Among returning ACC QBs, Kaaya had more yards and a better rating in 2015 than any other. He’s a true junior. Some consider him to be a fringe All-American candidate. In his annual college football guide, Phil Steele predicted Kaaya will be “one of the best QBs in the country.”
GEORGIA TECH (JUSTIN THOMAS): Thomas is back for his senior year after seeing significant action the previous two seasons. In those two years, Thomas has totaled 4,638 yards as a runner and a thrower. He also has 48 total TDs.
VIRGINIA (MATT JOHNS): As a junior in ‘15, Johns had 20 touchdown passes. That’s better than any returning starter in the coastal. Duke’s Thomas Sirk is the only passer still in the league who threw the ball more often (427 attempts) than Johns (403). But much like Peterman, Johns better learn from his mistakes via the experience he gained. He threw a conference leading 17 interceptions last year. And Peterman (26) was the only Coastal division quarterback to get sacked more often than Johns (23). If Johns doesn’t get better, senior Connor Brewer (a former transfer) and grad transfer Kurt Benkert could see playing time.
DUKE (THOMAS SIRK-INJ): As mentioned above, Sirk started 12 games last year. The only game he missed last year was against Pittsburgh. His absence against Pitt may be part of the reason why the Panthers cruised to an 18 point road victory against the Blue Devils. But now Sirk is hurt again. This time he is recovering from an Achilles tear in February. It’s his second such injury during his time in Durham. If Sirk can come back at some point, many believe he’d be the second best QB in the division. If not, Parker Boehme gets the call. And experience does come into play as a question for him. Aside from his 42 attempts vs Pitt, he only has 36 for the rest of his career with the Blue Devils.
NORTH CAROLINA (MITCH TRUBISKY): Even with the loss of star Marquise Williams, the Tar Heels aren’t totally green at the position. Mitch Trubisky is expected to take over. He’s a junior with 82 completions, 125 attempts, and 14 total TDs (11 pass/3 rush) on his resume already.
VIRGINIA TECH (?????): While questions exist, there is experience here with senior Brenden Motley. He started six games after Michael Brewer got hurt in the opener against Ohio State. And he was decent, completing 56% of his passes with an 11-7 TD/INT ratio. However, Motley may be challenged by Juco transfer Jerod Evans and Sophomore Dwayne Lawson.
Williams was the class of the division at QB by far last year. But he’s in Green Bay now. Peterman doesn’t have to take over that crown for the Panthers to be division champs. But he has to be even better than what he was in his first season with the Panthers. And his improvement may need to be better than all these other quarterbacks who have fan bases that are expecting exactly the same thing from their familiar trigger men.