Caulton Tudor

In ACC's QB-challenged Coastal, Heels' Harris could make a quick difference

Posted May 15

UNC football before NCAA football action at Kenan Stadium between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the North Carolina State Wolfpack on November 25, 2016 in Chapel Hill, NC. (Will Bratton/WRAL contributor)

— Assuming Brandon Harris can win the starting quarterback job at UNC – which may be assuming too much – the former LSU starter will have an opportunity to make a big impact on the ACC Coastal Division race.

Even though he didn’t go through spring drills at Carolina and even though he lost the starting job at LSU early in the 2016 season, Harris still has as much or more college game-day experience as the other Coastal Division quarterbacks.

On paper, the positional leader among Coastal QBs will be Duke sophomore Daniel Jones, who passed for 2,836 yards and 16 touchdowns (9 picks) last season and obviously has a bright future.

Jones moved up in the pecking order when Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans (3,552 yards, 29 TDs, 8 picks) made a regrettable decision to enter the NFL draft early. Some 95 underclassmen announced for the draft, 28 weren’t selected and Evans was one. He eventually signed a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and will be No. 4 on the depth chart entering preseason camp.

Other than Duke’s Jones, the only other Coastal QB with any sort of genuine college experience is Virginia’s Kurt Benkert, who passed for 2552 yards and 21 TDs (11 picks) but struggled late in the season.

The Heels’ Harris (6-3, 218) started 12 games in 2015 but threw only 25 passes and was dropped to No. 2 behind sophomore Dan Etling after one game in 2016.

After deciding on UNC over three Big 12 schools for a new start, Harris will arrive as the presumed leader to succeed Mitchell Trubisky for Larry Fedora when the Heels open in Chapel Hill against California on Sept. 2.

Harris told the Baton Rouge Advocate in late March that Fedora had assured him of “throwing more than 16 passes a game” and that Carolina’s spread offense was similar in scheme to what he ran at Parkway High at Bossier City, La.

But publicly, Fedora has no promises about starting and three returning hopefuls – redshirt freshman Logan Byrd, sophomore Nathan Elliott and redshirt frosh Chazz Surratt – have spent more time at Carolina.

“We’re going to have competition and see how it goes,” Fedora said.

Regardless of how it plays out, there’ll be a world of inexperience to overcome not only on the new quarterback but also the offensive unit. After closing 2016 with losses to NC State in Chapel Hill and Stanford in the Sun Bowl, Fedora’s fifth UNC team finished 5-3 in the league, 8-5 overall and lost almost of its offensive statistical leaders to the NFL.

Sophomore Jordon Brown, the team’s top returning rusher, had only 20 for 45 yards last season. The most established wide-out is Austin Proehl (5-10, 175) who was third in receptions.

And although UNC will be a comfortable favorite in the opener against Cal, which will be picked to finish last in the Pac-12 North, the ACC schedule will be challenging. Louisville arrives on Sept. 9 with Heisman winner Lamar Jackson and Duke drops in on Sept. 23 with Jones, followed by a trip to Georgia Tech.

So whether it’s Harris or one of the returnees, there probably won’t be a lot of down time.

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