CHARLOTTE — David Cutcliffe's cup continues to runneth over with quarterbacks, while Larry Fedora is trying for a second straight year to settle on someone to run his offense.
The Triangle coaching rivals will enter preseason practice next month with contrasting situations at the critical quarterback position.
Cutcliffe's Duke squad returns one of the most experienced (25 starts) and productive quarterbacks in the entire nation with junior Daniel Jones. Jones, from Charlotte, is just one of two returning quarterbacks in 2018, along with Syracuse's Eric Dungey, who have 5,500 career yards passing and more than 1,000 rushing. He capped the 2017 season by earning most valuable honors in a 36-14 Quick Lane Bowl win against North Illinois that helped the Blue Devils finish 7-6 overall.
It's sort of business as usual for Cutcliffe, a widely respected mentor of college quarterbacks best known for helping develop both Peyton and Eli Manning. Rarely, said Cutcliffe on Wednesday at the 2018 Atlantic Coast Conference Kickoff, has he headed into preseason practice with an unsettled situation at quarterback.
"Think how I've been blessed," Cutcliffe said. "I did have a spring with Peyton Manning (at Tennessee) where he managed to kind of eliminate every competitor around him. So starting in January, before we go into spring practice, I'm looking at a college football team with one quarterback. Not a walk-on, nothing. We had one quarterback and that was Peyton Manning."
The dilemma left Cutcliffe, who was then offensive coordinator for the Volunteers, to do some emergency recruiting before the start of spring practice.
"I had to go recruit walk-ons in a mid-year," he said. "Jeremy Bates, who is a pretty good football coach and an offensive coordinator in the National Football League (with New York Jets), his dad had coached with us at Tennessee. It was such a critical thing. We got him graduated early out of Sevierville County High School and had him in. We got another guy to walk-on. Thank goodness. We would have killed Peyton throwing the ball a thousand times in a practice.
"So I feel great about having Daniel Jones and a couple of others good young quarterbacks in our program."
Just down Highway 15-501 from Durham in Chapel Hill, Fedora is coming off a 3-9 finish that's his worst in six seasons at North Carolina. Along with a rash of injuries, a major factor in the Tar Heels' slide was the lack of consistent play at quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt began the year as the starter, then gave way to LSU transfer Brandon Harris. Harris and Surratt traded starts before sophomore Nathan Elliott got his shot late in the year and led the offense for the final four games.
Harris completed his eligibility in 2017, but because neither Elliott nor Surratt distinguished themselves enough last season, or in spring practice, the Tar Heels head into the preseason unsure who will lead their offense.
"I think ideally you'd like to have a returning guy who has been starting for three years for your program coming back," Fedora said. "But that's just not the case."
Both quarterbacks have "unique," but different talents, according to Fedora.
"I would say Chazz is a more explosive runner," Fedora said. "Nathan probably throws a more catchable ball in certain situations. But they can both make all the throws. So what it boils down to is the decision making. They know the number one thing is going to be who takes care of the football. If you don't take care of the football, you're not going to be the quarterback."
Junior receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams was hopeful one quarterback would step forward to lead the Tar Heels, but noted "We're ready to win with either quarterback."
Meanwhile, Cutcliffe has the comfort of having a three-year starter and contender for both the Maxwell Award given to college football's top offensive player and the Davey O'Brien Award honoring the top quarterback back.
"Daniel has had to face adversity," Cutcliffe said. "He's been hit more than a quarterback should get hit. But it's not deterred his preparation, his spirit, his leadership nor his confidence in his teammates. We're going to see the best Daniel Jones we've seen yet this season."
This article is written by Sammy Batten from The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.