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The Daily Tar Heel

Analysis: Is Sam Howell having the best season ever for a UNC quarterback?

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UNC quarterback Sam Howell (7), prepares to pass the ball on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019 in a game against Miami in Kenan Memorial Stadium. UNC beat Miami 28-25.

Sam Howell was named the starting quarterback for the North Carolina football team on August 26, 2019. A month and a half later, at the midway point of UNC's season, it seems like a perfectly fair time to ask: 

Is he having the best season ever for a UNC quarterback?

Here's a rundown of his 2019 so far: On Aug. 31 against South Carolina, Howell became the only true first-year to start a season opener in program history. Then, he led back-to-back touchdown drives in the fourth quarter in a 24-20 win. 

A week later, at home against Miami, Howell converted a late 4th-and-17, then found Rontavius "Toe" Groves in the end zone with 1:01 left to pull out a 28-25 win. He finished with 274 passing yards and two touchdowns, and delivered UNC its first 2-0 start since 2014.

After three straight losses sent the Tar Heels reeling, the Indian Trail, N.C. native had the best game of his young career to get his team back on track, throwing for four touchdowns and a career-high 376 yards in a 38-22 win over Georgia Tech.

All told, Howell's thrown for 1,544 yards and tossed 15 touchdowns in 2019, adding a score on the ground for good measure and leading the Tar Heels to a 3-3 record.

He's certainly on pace for the best rookie season by a Tar Heel. The only comparable campaign from recent memory is T.J. Yates' 2007 year, his first in Chapel Hill, in which he threw for 2,655 yards to go along with 14 touchdowns and 18 picks.

Howell, meanwhile, has thrown just three picks and is on track to match Mitch Trubisky's program record of 30 passing touchdowns in a season. He could also become the fifth UNC quarterback to throw for more than 3,000 yards in a season, with the others – Marquise Williams (twice), Renner (twice), T.J. Yates and Trubisky – all being upperclassmen at the time. 

That's some feat for a 19-year-old who was in high school less than a year ago.

Howell's numbers thus far have also come against one of the most difficult first-half schedules in the country, including a game against a vaunted Clemson defense where Howell went play-for-play with Trevor Lawrence and the then-No. 1 Tigers. 

A softer slate to end the year, plus increased confidence in Howell from his coaching staff, could see him finish the year even better than he's started it.

If he does, the only comparable season would be Trubisky's 2016 season — his last in Chapel Hill — in which he totaled a program-record 3,748 passing yards and the aforementioned 30 touchdowns. Howell could come close, but would be hard-pressed to surpass those numbers in 2019.

Again, though; Trubisky: junior. Howell: first-year.

One more important point: All of Howell's receiving weapons this year – Dyami Brown, Dazz Newsome and Beau Corrales, to name a few – will all presumably be back next season. While the loss of left tackle Charlie Heck will hurt, he's just one of two seniors that start in the Tar Heel offense this year.

Howell is already having an incredibly productive season under center for UNC. It may not end up as the best ever – but there's no reason to think his 2020 won't be even more eye-opening than his 2019.


@DTHSports |

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