All season long, Virginia fans have been pining for Brennan Armstrong to get more national recognition, especially as the UVA quarterback was largely left out of the Heisman conversation, despite leading the nation in both passing and total offense for most of the season.
The frustration of Cavalier fans reached a peak on Tuesday, when the Atlantic Coast Conference released its All-ACC Teams for the 2021 college football season. Brennan Armstrong was not named to the All-ACC First Team… or the All-ACC Second Team. Instead, the UVA quarterback made Third-Team All-ACC behind Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman and Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett.
Kenny Pickett was also selected as the ACC Player of the Year and Offensive Player of the Year, with Brennan Armstrong finishing in second in the voting for both awards. Pickett received 52 votes for Player of the Year and Armstrong was second with five votes. Pickett received 54 votes for Offensive Player of the Year and Armstrong was second with seven votes.
Some UVA fans are dissatisfied by this outcome to say the least and it’s difficult not to at least somewhat empathize with their frustration.
Brennan Armstrong has had a record-breaking season. He led the ACC in passing yards and total offense by a wide margin. He leads the NCAA in total offense per game and is second in the country in passing yards, trailing only Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe. Armstrong threw for at least 300 yards in ten games and at least 400 yards in six games this season. Of the top 10 single-game passing performances in all of college football this season, Brennan Armstrong has three of them, including 554 passing yards at North Carolina, the second-most of any quarterback in a single game this entire season. Armstrong’s 4,705 yards of total offense this season is a UVA record and the fifth-most in ACC history. His 4,449 passing yards is a UVA record and the fourth-most in ACC history.
Brennan Armstrong has accomplished all of this despite playing only 11 games and playing the final two games of the season with broken ribs.
It is understandable that a lot of UVA fans had a very negative gut-reaction to Armstrong only earning Third-Team All-ACC honors after his extraordinary season. However, it is simply a fact that only one quarterback can be named to each All-ACC Team, even if more than one quarterback has played well enough to deserve it. And this season, there has been some elite quarterback play in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Like Armstrong, Sam Hartman and Kenny Pickett have both had wildly successful seasons and broken records in their own right. And, while Armstrong leads in such statistical categories as passing yards and total offense, when you factor in other categories such as touchdowns, completion percentage, and interceptions, it becomes clear that these three quarterbacks have had relatively comparable seasons.
Here’s a breakdown of the season numbers for Kenny Pickett, Sam Hartman, and Brennan Armstrong:
|Category||Kenny Pickett||Sam Hartman||Brennan Armstrong|
All three quarterbacks eclipsed the 4,000 yard passing mark for the season. Armstrong led the group in passing yards and total offense, but Kenny Pickett had the most touchdowns, the best completion percentage, and the least number of interceptions, all important measurements of a quarterback’s performance.
Additionally, even though these are individual awards, team success clearly plays a factor in how these awards are voted on, considering Pittsburgh led the conference with 12 players on All-ACC Teams and Wake Forest was tied for second.
It does not seem right to penalize Armstrong for Virginia’s 6-6 season, especially since a large part of the responsibility for the losses falls on the shoulders of the lousy UVA defense. However, with the ‘best quarterback’ race being so close statistically, voters obviously took into account the fact that Kenny Pickett and Sam Hartman were the best players on the two best teams in the ACC. Both Pickett and Hartman led their teams to division titles as well as trips to the ACC Championship Game.
Furthermore, Armstrong went head-to-head with Sam Hartman and Kenny Pickett and lost both times. And again, those losses are largely not Armstrong’s fault, but the games happened and cannot be ignored.
Here’s the statistical breakdown of the quarterback performances from both of those games:
Virginia vs. Wake Forest, September 24th
Armstrong: 33/59 (56%), 407 passing yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 121.7 rating
Hartman: 17/29 (59%), 270 passing yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, 171 rating
Result: Wake Forest defeats Virginia 37-17 at Scott Stadium.
Virginia vs. Pittsburgh, November 20th
Armstrong: 36/49 (73%), 487 passing yards, three touchdowns, one interception, 173.1 rating
Pickett: 26/41 (63%), 340 passing yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, 155.5 rating
Result: Pittsburgh defeats Virginia 48-38 at Heinz Field.
Armstrong had over a hundred more passing yards than his counterparts in both games. But, as was the case in many of Virginia’s games this season, Armstrong was asked to do more and pass the ball more often due to UVA’s lack of a running game and because Virginia had to score so many points to stay in the game. Armstrong attempted eight more passes than Pickett and 30 more passes than Hartman. Sam Hartman and Kenny Pickett had to throw the ball less because they had leads and because they had more effective rushing attacks.
It is true that Brennan Armstrong had a season deserving of such accolades as First-Team All-ACC, ACC Offensive Player of the Year, and ACC Player of the Year. However, the same could be said for Kenny Pickett and Sam Hartman. The fact of the matter is that Armstrong, Pickett, and Hartman had comparable numbers overall. When you factor in team success, which is the entire goal of playing the game of football, Pickett and Hartman both led their teams to more successful seasons than Armstrong.
Had Armstrong had a better team around him (particularly on the defensive end) and had Virginia won more games this season, we would likely be celebrating Brennan Armstrong as the first Cavalier to win ACC Player of the Year since Matt Schaub in 2002.
It is frustrating to see such an incredible season from Brennan Armstrong not be officially recognized by end-of-season awards, but it is probably true that there were three quarterbacks in the ACC this season who deserved to be called the best.