It’s finally that time of the year. Although there is rampant speculation about whether or not the season will start on time or even at all, that is not going to stop us here at the Heel Tough Blog from previewing each and every position on this team in-depth to get you prepared if the team does hit the field sometime during the 2020-21 school year.
The first position group that we will look at in this year’s breakdowns is the quarterback group and for the first time since 2016, the Tar Heels will enter fall camp with a known quantity at quarterback. Following a record-setting true freshman season, Sam Howell (259-422, 3,671 yds, 38-7 TD-INT, 94 rush, 35 yds, TD) enters the 2020 season as one of the most talked about quarterbacks in the nation and a Heisman favorite. Howell set an NCAA true freshman and overall program record for touchdown passes in a season with 38 and in one of the best seasons by a quarterback in program history. Howell has proven that he can make just about any throw and might just be the nation's top play action quarterback. While Howell had a lot of success in the fourth quarter a year ago, some people are still wanting to see more from him late in games, although it feels like most believe he has what it takes. Sophomore seasons are never the easiest because people aren’t going to be caught off guard like they were a year ago by Howell. However, Howell has all of the tools to have another huge season and with the backup situation being much better than a year ago, his running ability will likely keep defenses on their toes as he looks to build on a great freshman season and lead the Tar Heels to their first ACC Championship Game appearance since 2015.
As we mentioned, the situation behind him is a much better one than the one a year ago. Sophomore Jace Ruder (5-7, 87 yds, 1-0 TD-INT, 7 rush, 43 yds in career) is on track to be 100% for the fall as he’ll look to hold on the backup job. Last year, prior to his knee injury suffered against Appalachian State, he came in to relieve Howell in the game against Wake Forest, doing a solid job holding down the fort until the true freshman’s inevitable return. Ruder has shown flashes of his talent in each of his first two seasons and winning the backup job last fall shows he’s not afraid of a little competition. If he can do enough to prove he’s fully healthy and ready to go, Ruder may not only win the backup job, but also a package or two in this Tar Heel offense due to his ability as a runner.
The guy standing in Ruder’s way is true freshman Jacolby Criswell (8,587 yards of total offense, 99 total touchdowns, 12 interceptions in prep career). COVID-19 was definitely a big blow to the Morrilton, AR native’s hopes after he early enrolled at Carolina back in January. Criswell fits this offense like a glove, similar to Howell, and he has the talent to win the backup job. His game has Vince Young vibes to it and would pair nicely behind Howell, but the big question will be if he can pick up the offense quick enough to be able to beat out Ruder for the backup job.
The most interesting man at the quarterback position in the fall won’t be any of these three, though. Instead it will be another true freshman, Tar Heel legacy Jefferson Boaz (231-312, 4,599 yds, 65-6 TD-INT, 466 rush yds, 17 TD in senior season at prep level), who will use the fall to try to prove to the coaching staff why he should stay at quarterback moving forward. He will enter the fall off of an amazing senior season at East Surry High School where he was one of the best quarterbacks in the state, but will have to prove that that success will translate over to the college level for the 1A level. Boaz has a big arm and strong deep ball, giving him a fighting chance, but this is one player that fall camp will be extremely important for whenever they hit the field.
Projected Depth Chart
# 7 Sam Howell, So.
#10 Jace Ruder, So.
# 6 Jacolby Criswell, Fr.
#14 Jefferson Boaz, Fr.