RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Brennan Armstrong arrived at North Carolina State trying to get a feel for new teammates as a graduate transfer from Virginia.
As for the offense? No problem.
That’s because Armstrong thrived under first-year coordinator Robert Anae at his previous stop, making this one of multiple passer-playcaller reunions nationally — including at schools like No. 4 Alabama, Pittsburgh and Louisville — with the potential for productive returns.
“I’m just trying to be that bridge to connect all the pieces together,” Armstrong said.
Last year illustrated how valuable these reunions can be. Look west to a pair of Big Ten-bound programs, where Caleb Williams won last year’s Heisman Trophy at USC after leaving Oklahoma with head coach Lincoln Riley.
And at Washington, Michael Penix Jr. was a star after transferring from Indiana, where Huskies head coach Kalen DeBoer was Penix’s coordinator in 2019.
This year’s teams would love anything approaching that production.
At Alabama, Tommy Rees left Notre Dame to shape an offense replacing former Heisman winner and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Bryce Young. Neither backup Jalen Milroe nor former five-star recruit Ty Simpson seized control in the spring, so the Crimson Tide landed Tyler Buchner from Notre Dame.
He began last year as the Fighting Irish’s starter before going down with a shoulder injury in Week 2. He returned to lead Notre Dame past South Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
“Ty’s a guy I recruited at a young age, obviously spent two seasons with him,” Rees said. “He provides a little bit of veteran presence in the room and adds competition. I think he’s hit the ground running with the rest of the guys on the team, especially with the rest of the quarterbacks, and it’s been really a healthy transition.”
Pittsburgh had multiple appeals for Phil Jurkovec as he left Boston College as a graduate transfer. One was being in his hometown. The other was offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr., who coached Jurkovec at BC in 2020 and 2021 before taking over Pitt’s offense last season.
“Being able to come home is huge,” Jurkovec said, “but Coach Cignetti was probably the key to it all.”
Jurkovec’s most productive BC season came in 2020, when he threw for 2,558 yards and 17 touchdowns.
“Phil knows these plays,” Cignetti said. “He knows what they look like, he knows what is expected. So if a quarterback has more reps in certain things, he’s going to play faster. He’s going to make more decisive decisions. That’s the beauty of some of these pro-football quarterbacks that have played in the same system their whole career.”
New Louisville coach Jeff Brohm, with his brother Brian as the offensive coordinator, hope for similar in their Cardinals homecoming. They have two transfers who played for them at Purdue: senior Jack Plummer, who spent four years there before playing last season at California; and redshirt freshman Brady Allen, who appeared in one game last year.
Brian Brohm pointed to Plummer’s experience as an asset in everything down to knowing how the staff runs practices.
“I think we definitely can do more,” Brohm said.
“When you have a new quarterback and a new system, you’ve got to slowly put it in and install it, and see how much they can handle and see how fast you can go based upon the quarterback. … Now it’s trying to get all the other players up to speed because we know at the quarterback spot, he knows what we’re looking for. He’s helped everyone else move along a lot faster as well.”
There was also a package-deal of Deion Sanders taking over at Colorado while bringing along his son Shedeur, though that will be under a different coordinator than at Jackson State.
Back at N.C. State, Armstrong offers intriguing upside.
He ranked second nationally in passing (404.5) to go with 31 touchdowns in 2021, a season that included the three biggest single-game performances in school history —- notably 554 yards against North Carolina. But things changed when Tony Elliott took over as head coach and Anae headed to Syracuse.
By season’s end, Virginia’s career leader in passing and total offense had thrown for seven TDs with 12 interceptions in 10 games. He mulled moves to Oklahoma State and Wisconsin before choosing N.C. State once Anae was hired to replace current Coastal Carolina head coach Tim Beck.
“I think anywhere I’ve been, if your quarterback earns trust and confidence in the weight room and in the training aspect, the strength-and-conditioning world, that means a lot to the team,” Anae said. “You’re not just playing quarterback, you’re leading the team. … I do believe Brennan has earned their respect with how hard he works.”
That includes Armstrong having his own open-door policy to discussing an offense still new to his new teammates.
“With what we were doing last year at Virginia, it just didn’t fit me,” Armstrong said. “It was just hard for me to start clicking. And I think this year I’m able to ease up, figure out what I’ve got to do.
“I’m so familiar with it that it’s super easy for me. I’m able to play free and just try to go out there and put the offense in the best position to score.”