GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Look around the ACC, and the league's media days in Greesboro, and it's impossible to miss Jameis Winston. The reigning Heisman Trophy winner held court in front of the biggest crowd of the day, making it easy to forget that there are a lot of questions at the quarterback position outside Tallahassee in the ACC.
The league returns just four starting quarterbacks from 2013, but that not automatically translate to a down year for the ACC. If the league is going to build on its recent success, it will be because of players like Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt.
Stoudt spent three years as Tajh Boyd's backup, completing 86-of-119 passes for eight touchdowns and just one interception in three years of spot duty. He competed with Chad Kelly and early enrollee Deshaun Watson for the starting job in spring practice.When Watson's spring ended in a collarbone injury and Kelly was dismissed following a sideline blowup in the spring game, Stoudt was announced as the Tigers' starter for 2014.
"I was very patient for the past three years, and every time I got in I just maximized my opportunity," Stoudt explained. "Coaches come up to me and [they] say, 'One reason why you have succeeded is because of your patience.' And I totally agree with that."
Stoudt says his father, Cliff Stoudt, a quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1977-89, encourages him to relax under center -- "basically not think," as Cole tells it -- and that kind of even approach could be just what the Tigers need to keep that potent offense led by offensive coordinator Chad Morris humming in year one without Tajh Boyd.
"The thing I like about Cole is that he's very disciplined," Swinney said of Stoudt in April. "He lives by the motto that, 'You don't ever go broke by making a profit.' If it's just a simple check down that the defense will give him, he will take it. He doesn't force anything, he'll just keep moving the chains."
When Tajh Boyd announced he would return for the 2013 instead of entering the NFL Draft early, Stoudt knew it meant another year of backup duty. The topic of transferring came up once, but just once, for the senior quarterback.
"I never once thought about leaving Clemson," Stoudt said. "I was born with orange in my blood and I once never thought about transferring. My dad brought it up one time and I looked down and said, 'Please don't ever bring that conversation up again because I don't want to leave, I love this place.'"
Clemson is not one of the four teams with a returning starter at quarterback, but they might have one of the most game-ready signal callers in the league. After three years of backing up Boyd, patience has paid off for Stoudt and the Tigers offense.