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Wednesday February 1st

Analysis: Sam Howell leads top-heavy group of passers for UNC football

<p>First-year quarterback Sam Howell (7) passes the ball in the homecoming game against Duke on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Kenan Memorial Stadium. &nbsp;UNC defeated Duke 20-17 for the first time in three years.</p>
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First-year quarterback Sam Howell (7) passes the ball in the homecoming game against Duke on Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019 in Kenan Memorial Stadium.  UNC defeated Duke 20-17 for the first time in three years.

Between Mitch Trubisky, Brandon Harris, Nathan Elliott and Sam Howell, the quarterback position at North Carolina has seen its fair share of highs and lows in the last five years.

Heading into the 2020 season, though, the Tar Heels' new group of passers looks to be one of the premier squads in the country.

Sam Howell

Saying that Howell had an impressive first year for the UNC football team last season would be an understatement. From the first game of the year, a 24-20 comeback win against South Carolina, Howell was setting records.

He started the game, becoming the first true first-year to ever start in a season opener for UNC. His performance in the game also earned him ACC Freshman of the Week honors.

It was clear from the start of the season that Howell's teammates knew just how high his ceiling could be for the remainder of his college career.

“Sam’s a baller. No matter what situation he’s in, he’s got control,” wide receiver Beau Corrales said after the team's win over South Carolina. “He’s not an extremely 'rah-rah' type of guy, but the confidence he has, you can feel that.”

Howell went on to rack up 38 touchdown passes over the course of the season, which set both the FBS true first-year record and the UNC program record. He also earned honors in the form of Freshman All-America, ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year and ACC Overall Rookie of the Year.

As the 2020 season approaches, Howell's name is in the mix for the Heisman Trophy, and he'll look to lead a loaded UNC offense that should contend for the ACC title.

Backup options

The Tar Heels have three other quarterbacks on the roster competing to be the go-to option behind Howell. Sophomore Jace Ruder and first-years Jefferson Boaz and Jacolby Criswell will be ready to be called upon if needed. 

  • Ruder was a true first-year in 2018 but took a redshirt after appearing in just one game. He appeared in his first game of last season against Wake Forest, passing for seven yards and running three times for 21 yards. His experience in head coach Mack Brown's system last year should give him an edge over newer teammates Boaz and Criswell, but after a history of injuries, it's uncertain how much he'll be able to handle if he sees any playing time.
  • Boaz entered UNC listed as a three-star prospect and 40th in the tight end rankings by the 247Sports Composite. However, offensive coordinator Phil Longo saw enough of Boaz at the QB position during his final two years of high school to feel confident in recruiting him as a passer. Boaz tallied 6,226 passing yards and 85 touchdowns over his last two seasons of high school ball, making him one of the more intriguing prospects.
  • Criswell was named the Arkansas Gatorade Football Player of the Year to cap off his senior season after he passed for 5,925 yards and 58 touchdowns, while rushing for 2,568 yards and 41 scores over a three-year varsity career.


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