Friedlander: Which ACC school will be the next to have a quarterback join the 30-touchdown pass club?
Thirty touchdown passes in a season doesn’t sound like an extraordinary amount considering the way football is played these days.
Fourteen quarterbacks reached the mark last season alone, with 4 of them reaching 40.
Surprisingly, though, it hasn’t been a frequent occurrence in the ACC. It’s been done only 22 times in the 69-year history of the league.
Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett holds the ACC record with 42 while leading the Panthers to the conference championship in 2021.
Among current ACC members, Clemson has had the most 30-touchdown seasons with 7. Tajh Boyd did it 3 times, in 2011-12-13; Deshaun Watson twice in 2015 and 2016, and Trevor Lawrence in both 2018 and 2019.
NC State has had the most members of the 30-touchdown club with 4 – Philip Rivers in 2003, Russell Wilson in 2009, Mike Glennon in 2011-12, and Devin Leary in 2021.
On the flip side, 5 ACC programs have never had a quarterback throw for 30 touchdowns in a season.
And at least 1 of them might surprise you.
What are the odds that 1 or more of those schools will finally break through and have its first 30-touchdown passer this season?
Let’s rank their chances.
5. Virginia Tech
The obvious name that comes to mind is Michael Vick. But Vick was a dual-threat quarterback who ran for touchdowns as often as he threw for them. He never threw more than 12 TD passes in college.
The school record for touchdown passes in a season is 29, set by Jerod Evans in 2016. That mark is almost certain to last at least another year.
Although Grant Wells got off to a fast start by throwing 5 touchdown passes in his first 2 games, an injury has sidelined him for the past 2 weeks. His replacement Kyron Drones has thrown for only 1 since.
Riley Leonard threw 20 TD passes during his breakout freshman season. With a year of experience and most of his top weapons returning, he started 2023 as a strong candidate to make the jump and become the first Blue Devil to reach the 30-TD club.
Even though Leonard has led his team to a 4-0 start, including an opening night upset of Clemson, he’s only thrown for 2 touchdowns while running for 4 more.
It’s still too early to count Leonard out, since he has the potential to produce touchdowns in bunches, as he did by throwing for 4 against Wake Forest last year. But even taking into account the extra game he’ll get when Duke becomes bowl eligible, he’ll have to average better than 3 per game to get to 30 for the season.
Anthony Dilweg, who also spent nearly 2 decades as the color analyst on the Blue Devils’ radio broadcasts, holds the school record with 24 touchdown passes in 1988. First-round NFL draft Daniel Jones has the next-highest total at 22.
Daniel Jones, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, threw a career-high 22 TD passes in 2018.
Surely, Donovan McNabb, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1999 NFL Draft got to 30, right?
Not even close. McNabb topped out at 22 during his senior season.
Like Virginia Tech’s Wells, the Orange’s Garrett Shrader got off to a blazing start by dropping 4 dimes against Colgate in the season-opener. But his bid for 30 – or even the school record of 26, set by Ryan Nassib in 2012 – took a major hit when he lost his top receiver to a season-ending injury in Week 2.
Shrader has only thrown 2 more scoring passes since Oronde Gadsden II was sidelined. He ran for 6 touchdowns during that 3-game stretch. He’ll have to average 2.6 touchdown tosses per game from here on out, bowl game included, to get to 30.
Not out of the question. But still not likely.
2. Georgia Tech
It’s hardly a surprise that the Yellow Jackets have never had a 30-touchdown passer. I mean, they might not have had 30 touchdown passes combined during Paul Johnson’s 11-year tenure of running the triple option.
But before PJ arrived, the Jackets did have Calvin Johnson, who caught 15 TD passes in 2006. Even that wasn’t enough. Tech dual-threat legend Reggie Ball finished with 20 that season.
You have to go all the way back to 1999, but Tech came close to joining the 30 club when Joe Hamilton came up only 1 short with 29. That mark appears likely to fall this season, thanks to the arrival of Texas A&M transfer Haynes King.
It took King until the final week of preseason camp to beat out Zach Pyron and Zach Gibson for the starting job. But he’s solidified his hold on the position by throwing for 11 touchdowns in his first 4 games.
At his current rate, he’ll finish the regular season with 33. And that’s not taking a potential postseason game into account now that he’s led Tech to an encouraging 2-2 start.
This is the real shocker. How can a program that produced Heisman Trophy winners Vinny Testaverde and Gino Torretta, not to mention future NFL quarterbacks Bernie Kosar, Steve Walsh and Ken Dorsey, not have at least 1 30-touchdown passer to its credit?
But it’s true.
Walsh holds the program record with 29 in 1988. Current quarterback Tyler Van Dyke is on pace to surpass that mark. He’s tied with Georgia Tech’s King for the ACC lead with 11 through 4 games. That includes 3 last week in a win against Temple.
Van Dyke showed he’s capable of putting up big numbers in 2021 when he threw for 25 touchdowns, despite seeing significant action in only 9 games on the way to become the ACC’s Offensive Freshman of the Year.
With an enhanced offensive line to keep him healthy after an injury plagued 2022, he’s almost a lock to get Miami into the 30 passing touchdown club this season.