There’s an old adage in football that a team with two starting quarterbacks doesn’t actually have any.
But according to the depth chart released at Monday’s press conference, North Carolina football head coach Larry Fedora will try his luck with three.
Instead of answering the starting quarterback question that cast a shadow over the Tar Heels’ offseason, Fedora kept fans, media and even his own team guessing by listing Brandon Harris, Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott in the starting quarterback slot on UNC’s depth chart with a bold “OR” separating all three.
Harris, a graduate transfer from Louisiana State who started 15 games and saw snaps in 10 more, entered fall camp as the favorite to earn the starting job. Though he lost the starting job after LSU’s second game last season, Fedora appreciates Harris’ wisdom, especially considering the massive turnover for UNC for offensive skill positions.
“Brandon brings something that none of the other guys have: his game experience,” Fedora said at Monday’s press conference. “We needed somebody in that room with game experience.”
This experience at LSU has turned out to be a double-edged sword. Harris failed to seize full control of the starting job, due in large part to his lack of familiarity with UNC’s fast-paced offensive system. It's a stark contrast from the pro-style offense he ran at LSU.
“I think the thing for me is continuing to learn our footwork that we take here because it is totally different than what I did at LSU,” Harris said earlier this month. “Out of the spread and under the center is totally different.”
While Harris’ failure to take the reins is partly his doing, the emergence of Surratt, a redshirt first-year, has further muddied the quarterback picture, much to Fedora’s delight.
Surratt came to UNC after a stellar high school career at East Lincoln High School in Denver, N.C., where he was named the North Carolina Gatorade state player of the year as a senior. Touted as the Tar Heels’ quarterback of the future, Surratt showed flashes of his potential in practices but was plagued by inconsistencies during his redshirt season.
But with a full year in the Tar Heels’ system under his belt, Surratt has taken the steps needed to reach the expectations set for him when he first stepped on campus.
“I think he’s quite a bit better than he was last year,” Fedora said. “And I think that’s just (from being) a full year into it and understanding the expectations and how we practice and what the focus level has to be each day to be an elite quarterback.”
Elliott, the third man listed in the starting spot, doesn’t bring Surratt’s physical tools or Harris’ in-game experience. But the redshirt sophomore does offer efficiency, good decision making and a wealth of knowledge from working under Marquise Williams and Mitchell Trubisky in the last two seasons.
With Surratt establishing himself and ironing out his inconsistencies, Elliott’s path to the starting job will be an uphill climb. But the Texas native could prove to be a capable backup for the next three years.
Logan Byrd entered fall camp in the thick of the positional battle, but as the other three proved themselves, the first-year’s play time tapered off. Byrd was not listed in Monday’s depth chart.
As for what this means with regard to who will take the field at Kenan Stadium in Saturday’s season opener against California, expect both Harris and Surratt to see considerable playing time, with Elliott possibly earning a series or two if the front-runners struggle.
With the ACC opener against No. 16 Louisville looming in Week Two, Fedora needs someone to rise above the rest and take control of the offense as quickly as possible.
Whoever that may be has one game to do it.
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