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UNC football: Considering the future implications of the Tar Heels’ quarterback competition

Brandon Harris will probably start. If he doesn’t, it might help North Carolina’s future.

LSU v Wisconsin Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

When Brandon Harris committed to UNC, it looked like an ideal situation for all parties. UNC lost Mitch Trubisky to the draft, which wasn’t exactly the expectation heading into the 2016 season. The most experienced quarterback left on the team was Nathan Elliot, who has just nine career passing attempts on his resume.

For Harris, it was a chance to go to a school with an open quarterback race. It’s a team with a good offensive system in place. UNC is also a place where a quarterback was just taken #2 overall out of. It represented a decent place for Harris to play out his final season as a college quarterback. Harris slotting into the starting QB spot seemed pretty natural.

Larry Fedora has been pretty insistent through practice that the race is open between Harris and Elliott, as well as Chazz Surratt and Logan Byrd too.

It makes sense. Harris wasn’t able to enroll in UNC until after spring practice. Training camp is the first chance he’s gotten to get on the field with the rest of the team. Also, why just anoint Harris the starter? It probably can’t hurt the other three to think that they’re in it, even if Harris does end up getting the nod.

At the time of this writing, Fedora hasn’t said anything definitive, but it still seems to be the assumption of most people that Harris will start. Why bring in this high profile transfer for just one season if he’s not going to be the guy?

The one-year thing also represents a potential drawback. If Harris is the starter, North Carolina is in a similar situation next year. They lose their quarterback and have to start someone who probably won’t have gotten regular playing time.

Considering that a lot of the skill position players on offense are young as well, would there be any benefit to giving one of the other three quarterbacks the starting spot?

The first time UNC had to work in a new starter as quarterback in the Fedora era was when Marquise Williams had to step in. Bryn Renner held the role for the first year and half of Fedora’s reign. When he went down with an injury, Williams took over and was starter from then on.

He played well in relief of Renner in 2013, took a step back in 2014, but then was the guy running the Tar Heels’ prolific offense in 2015. In Williams’ senior season, he was averaging over eight yards an attempt in the air and over six on the ground, both up from the two previous seasons.

When Trubisky stepped in, there was a drop off from the season before. That’s not to say it was his fault. After all, he played well enough to get taken second in the draft. There were some coaching decisions that frustrated fans at points, and it was always going to be difficult to repeat an 11-1 season.

That being said, he looked shaky in his first start against Georgia. There’s also a non-zero possibility the play calling would have gone different in the hurricane game against Virginia Tech. Williams was not immune to mistakes, so things may have gone exactly the same in those two games, but it’s something to think about.

This is obviously a small sample size for one player, but it’s also an example of a player improving after several years of playing in Fedora’s system. It might not be repeatable, but it could be better to let a quarterback who will be around for more than one year get starts.

Harris probably represents the best chance for UNC to be better this year. For that reason, it seems likely he’ll start. There’s nothing for them to intentionally lose for in college football, so they might as well go for as many wins as they can.

However, if they can get away with still having a bowl season and playing one of the younger quarterbacks, it might not be the worst idea.