In the ACC, picking the top quarterback won’t be easy task

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Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett throws a pass against North Carolina during the second half of an NCAA college football game Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 30-23 in overtime. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Someone is getting snubbed.

Virginia has Brennan Armstrong, who is third in the country with 3,557 passing yards. Pittsburgh has Kenny Pickett, who vaulted himself into the Heisman Trophy conversation with 32 touchdown passes this season. Wake Forest has Sam Hartman, who may wind up leading the Demon Deacons into the Atlantic Coast Conference title game. N.C. State has Devin Leary, who has thrown for 29 touchdowns.

When the All-ACC team comes out, at least one of those quarterbacks will be missing.

The All-ACC selections, which are expected to be announced early next month, have a first team, a second team and a third team. That means three slots at each position, meaning there are no shortage of ACC quarterbacks who are going to see their name on the honorable-mention list — or not at all — and probably not be overly thrilled about that development.

“I don’t think there’s another quarterback in the country doing more for his team than what Brennan is doing for us,” Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said.

Interestingly, Armstrong’s value might have been on its most prominent display this past weekend — when he couldn’t play because of a rib injury. Virginia’s offense has averaged 39 points in Armstrong’s nine games this season; the Cavaliers managed three points without him in a lopsided loss to Notre Dame.

It’s unclear if Armstrong can go this week when Virginia faces Pitt in a game that might end up deciding the ACC Coastal title. If he plays, the game simply could turn into an Armstrong vs. Pickett shootout.

Pickett’s numbers make it easy to conclude that he’s had a great season. But the biggest contribution he made to Pitt’s success, arguably, was when he called a team meeting after a disappointing early loss to Western Michigan.

“It comes down to the senior leadership, Kenny Pickett leadership,” Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi said. “You’re only as good as your team. If you’re a player-led team, you have a chance with Kenny. I hope all our young guys learn from Kenny Pickett.”

At Wake Forest, they say the same about Hartman.

He’s now the Demon Deacons’ recordholder for career (63) and single-season (30) touchdown passes, is the catalyst for the highest-ranked team in the conference and can wrap up Wake’s first trip to the ACC title game since 2006 this weekend with a win over Clemson.

It was on July 22 when Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said this: “We’d love to get to that second to last game in November against Clemson with it meaning a lot for both football teams.”

Hartman ensured that scenario would happen exactly as Clawson envisioned, though defers much of the credit to his receiving corps.

“It’s been kind of the message all year that we’ve got a two-deep of guys that know what they’re doing, go get the ball and make plays and make plays after they catch the ball as well,” Hartman said. “It’s an honor to kind of be in my position.”

No matter which way the All-ACC race pans out, it’ll serve as a reminder that preseason polls and award lists often fall well short in their quest to accurately pick the future.

The ACC’s preseason player of the year — by an overwhelming margin in the voting — was North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, who started the season as a Heisman front-runner but a slow start by the Tar Heels doomed those plans. Miami quarterback D’Eriq King, Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei and Boston College quarterback Phil Jurkovec also got preseason ACC player of the year votes.

King’s season ended early with injuries. Jurkovec got injured and missed about two months. Uiagalelei and the Tigers needed time to figure themselves out.

“He’s had a challenging year, but that’s just part of growing up,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. ”It’s just part of being a young quarterback and learning how to handle disappointment and things like that. Early part of the year, he certainly wasn’t playing well, and we weren’t playing well around him. And we’re getting better. We are more consistent around him.”

Uiagalelei is 248 yards away from 2,000 this season; if he gets there, that means the ACC will have at least nine quarterbacks hit that number in 2021. Armstrong, Pickett, Hartman, Leary and Howell are there already, as are Louisville’s Malik Cunningham, Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke and Duke’s Gunnar Holmberg.

And all those numbers will give award voters much to consider when it’s time for those All-ACC quarterback picks to be made.

“You need to be exceptional at that position,” Mendenhall said.

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