Only 12 true freshmen quarterbacks in a Power 5 conference started a game in 2014, and five were in the ACC. That bodes well for the future of the league, but as spring practices come to a close around the league, we’re checking in on where each of these five freshmen stand heading into their follow-up campaigns.
Next up: Wake Forest’s John Wolford
2014 highs: Finding highs for anyone on Wake Forest’s offense is tough to do, but coaches knew that would be the case going into the season. Dave Clawson admits he would have preferred to redshirt Wolford rather than throw him to the wolves without any established talent surrounding him, but Wolford was so much better than the other options, Clawson had no choice. So grading Wolford’s progress has to be done on a curve, and still, there’s reason for optimism. Over his final five games of the season, Wolford threw just two interceptions and dramatically improved his passer rating and yards-per-attempt from the first half of the season, culminating with a stellar performance against Duke in the finale. Despite few weapons at receiver, Wolford also developed a good rapport with freshman tight end Cam Serigne. His 58 completions to tight ends ranked second among Power 5 quarterbacks.
2014 lows: Wolford was a sitting duck behind a dreadful offensive line most of the season, and that made it impossible to truly discern how much of Wake’s struggles were the fault of the freshman and how much was a lack of talent around him. No quarterback in the country was sacked more often (10.9 percent of dropbacks), and that led to some ugly numbers. Wolford’s 5.55 yards-per-attempt was fourth-worst nationally, and no Power 5 quarterback had a lower yards-per-completion (9.52). Wolford’s 19.8 QBR against Power 5 foes was the nation’s worst.
Spring progress report: Improvement on the offensive line this spring has meant improvement for Wolford. "John was avoiding disaster most of the time last year as opposed to actually running plays," offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero said. This spring, his experience is showing up in how he’s been able to work through progressions and find receivers downfield -- offensive fundamentals that just weren’t possible last season. Wolford has also been pushed by true freshman Kendall Hinton, an early enrollee who finally gives Wake some depth. Clawson hasn’t officially tabbed Wolford as his starter, and Hinton did demonstrate his athleticism and confidence in the huddle this spring. Still, Wolford’s knowledge of the offense, comfort amid chaos and the toughness he showed throughout last season has given him a marked leg up in the competition, and with some better tools to work with, he’s made strides on the field, too.
2015 projection: Wake’s offense almost certainly has to be better in 2015 -- if for no other reason than it would be virtually impossible to be worse. Wolford’s improvement as the season progressed last season combined with better offensive weapons this year should put him in position to take some real strides, too. Wake’s line still is young, and this spring, seven of the 10 starters around Wolford were new, so this won’t be an instant fix, but there is at least some optimism for marginal improvement. Of course, the additional options on offense for Wake extend to quarterback, too, so Clawson might not be as patient with Wolford as he was required to be a year ago. With two of the first three games of the year on the road, it would be a surprise if Wolford wasn’t the starter, but he’ll also need to show he’s capable of succeeding in those environments, too, if he wants to hold onto the job.