Fall has officially arrived and with it comes brisk mornings and the coloring of leaves around Kenan Stadium. Now that the calendar has flipped to October and the college football season is already six weeks old, it’s time for media and fans across the country to take seriously what Drake Maye has accomplished thus far and the various records that are set to fall in the months to come.
The redshirt freshman swept ACC Quarterback and Freshman of the Week honors for the second time on Monday after carving up Virginia Tech’s defense for 436 total yards of offense and five touchdowns in UNC’s 41-10 victory on Saturday. Through five games, Maye has completed 69.7% of his passes for 1,594 yards, 19 touchdowns and an interception, which equates to a 187.6 efficiency rating. He’s also rushed for 297 non-sack yards with three scores.
Maye leads Power 5 quarterbacks in throws of 10+ yards for completions (48), yards (1,123) and touchdowns (14), according to Pro FootballFocus. Phil Longo watched the top quarterback in school history declare for theNFL Draft on New Year’s Day and went to work preparing Maye not as a replacement but rather as an upgrade.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound quarterback, who committed to Alabama in July 2019 before flipping to Carolina eight months later, is on pace to rewrite the UNC record book. His current production has him on track to pass Mitch Trubisky’s single-season passing yards mark by nearly 400 yards, Sam Howell’s single-season passing touchdowns and single-season efficiency rating thresholds while also dusting off Chris Kupec’s single-season completion percentage record.
Those potential achievements are certainly worthy of tailgate banter in the Bowles Lot and on Stadium Drive, although Maye’s early theatrics bring records beyond the Chapel Hill town lines into the conversation.
In the single-season category of the Atlantic Coast Conference record book, Maye is on pace to break Kenny Pickett’s passing touchdown record (42) and Jameis Winston’s passing efficiency mark (184.8). He’s also on track to finish the season ranked in the Top-5 of multiple ACC single-season records, including total offense, total offense per game, total offense per play, completion percentage and passing yards per attempt. If his trajectory holds, Maye would also own the freshman record in five of the aforementioned ACC categories.
Extending the search even further to the NCAA record book, it’s notable that Winston holds the national freshman records in passing yards (4.057), touchdown passes (40) and passing efficiency (184.8). At his current average of 369.8 yards of total offense per game, Maye would top Johnny Manziel’s freshman record for total offense (5,116) if UNC happened to win the Coastal Division and play a 14th game.
Winston, of course, won the Heisman Trophy as a redshirt freshman in 2013 in leading Florida State to an undefeated season and a victory over Auburn in the national championship game. The difference in Winston’s exposure and that of Maye’s thus far is that Florida State opened the season ranked No. 11 in the AP poll and gradually climbed the rankings by season’s end. The Seminoles led the nation in scoring defense (12.1) and ranked second in scoring offense (51.6).
The spotlight was affixed on Winston’s wide shoulders not long after he dismantled Pittsburgh’s defense on opening night. Maye has done his work while competing with Gene Chizik’s lackluster defense for headlines against a schedule that ranks 84th nationally. His production has prompted some national talking heads to take notice, although the difficulty in gaining traction is twofold: (1) UNC was blown out in its lone game against a Top-25 quality program (Notre Dame); and (2) as Howell learned last season, national praise and postseason accolades correlate quite nicely with win-loss records.
As good as Maye and Longo’s offense may be, it’s difficult to overcome a defense that failed to meet even modest expectations at this point of the season. ESPN’s Football Power Index projects UNC to finish at 8-4, which would keep the Tar Heels out of the Top-25 and therefore Maye most likely out of the Heisman race, even if he continues to deliver video game numbers.
Why? The Heisman and its various counterparts require team success, not just gaudy individual numbers. Seventeen of the past 21 Heisman Trophy winners played for teams that finished Top-5 in the final AP rankings and 15 played for conference champions.
The four Heisman Trophy winners who did not play on teams that finished in the AP Top-5 were dual-threat standouts: Nebraska’s Eric Crouch (2001), Florida’s Tim Tebow (2007), Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (2011) and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (2016). All four led their programs to at least nine wins in the regular season and their teams were ranked in the Top-25 for all but four total weeks combined in those four seasons.
The good news for Maye and his Tar Heels is that while the remaining stretch of games is more difficult than how the schedule began, there are no certain losses and only a handful of toss-ups. A win at Miami on Saturday would likely move UNC into the Top-25 and give the young quarterback the national media attention he deserves.