Prior to the beginning of the season, it was hard not to feel like incoming freshman quarterback Sam Howell would have a good season for the Tar Heels. Perhaps this feeling was nothing more than wishful thinking, as the team had just gotten done with a disastrous year where we saw four quarterbacks in Chazz Surratt, Cade Fortin, Nathan Elliott, and Jace Ruder all see time on the field. It could be that sometimes gut feelings hit the nail on the head, but I think it’s fair to say that nobody expected this.
Yes, the Tar Heels are still struggling as a whole if we want to be really picky. To put things into perspective, however: it was very possible that Mack Brown’s squad could’ve easily started the season 0-5, and what happened instead is that the Heels exited a very tough part of their schedule 2-3, with one of those losses being a heartbreaking loss to Clemson. Realistically, when looking at the product being put onto the field as a whole, UNC has been overachieving during a season that could’ve contained some blowout losses to this point. However, this isn’t want has happened at all, and it’s mostly thanks to Sam Howell.
Yesterday afternoon, UNC writer Pat James tweeted a surprising statistic about the dynamic freshman quarterback:
Another day, another crazy Sam Howell stat.— Pat James (@patjames24) October 23, 2019
Since 2000, 36 FBS quarterbacks have thrown three or fewer interceptions while attempting 244 or more passes in their team's first seven games, according to College Football Reference. Howell is the only freshman. pic.twitter.com/rKHT6mkR8S
Despite being behind a very bruised, battered, and depth-deficient offensive line, Sam Howell has done a remarkable job of taking care of the football this season. Three interceptions for the year so far is incredible, and it only looks better when you consider the fact that he has thrown 20 touchdown passes, which is a UNC record for a freshman quarterback. The record was previously held by Darian Durant, who had 17 passing TDs during the 2001 season.
The scary thing is that Sam Howell and the Tar Heels are barely past the halfway part of the season, as they at minimum have games left against Duke, Virginia, Pitt, Mercer, and NC State. Given the fact that Howell has completed 149 of his 244 pass attempts for 1,892 yards on top of his 20 touchdowns and three picks, he’s on pace to break the the following records:
- Freshman passing yardage: 2,655, T.J. Yates (2007)
- Freshman completions: 218, T.J. Yates (2007)
- Single-season passing touchdowns: 30, Mitch Trubisky (2016)
- Lowest INT percentage: 1.34, (6 INT, 447 attempts) Mitch Trubisky (2016)
What’s amazing about these four records is that each of them are easily attainable at the pace that Howell is producing at. If Howell only throws two touchdowns per game for the rest of the season, he will tie Trubisky’s record. If he averages 152.6 yards per game, he will tie T.J. Yates’ freshman yardage record. Completions? Howell only needs to connect with his receivers 69 more times to get the job done. The toughest record on this list to break may be the interceptions record, which would still give him three more records to go with his current freshman touchdown record.
If you think that his historic performance this season is just a product of playing for North Carolina, consider this: Sam Howell has already won three ACC Quarterback of the Week awards, and no quarterback in the conference has won it more than once. If that doesn’t do it for you, NFL prospect and Oklahoma Sooners QB Jalen Hurts has thrown for 2,074 yards and 20 touchdowns so far this season, which is just 182 passing yards ahead of Howell. To put it simply: Sam Howell isn’t just a really good freshman quarterback this year, he’s a really good college quarterback period.
Knowing that Howell is destined to receive more help the next two years of his UNC career should be an exciting thought for each and every Tar Heel fan. I can’t wait to see how he finishes the year out, and hopefully his individual achievements also lead to team achievements overall. What do you think of Sam Howell’s play this year so far? How do you think this season will end for him, and what do you think that his ceiling is as a college player? Let us know in the comments below.