Learning about North Carolina's quarterback pecking order should be one of the early discoveries of the college football season.
The Tar Heels, needing to replace record-setting Sam Howell after his three seasons as a starter, will be one of the first teams in action when Florida AM visits Aug.27 for a non-league game in Chapel Hill, N.C.
The quarterback contenders are redshirt sophomore Jacolby Criswell and redshirt freshman Drake Maye. They've been pushed during preseason camp.
"These two have been here. Drake has been here a year-and-half," Tar Heels coach Mack Brown said. "Jacolby has been here two years and a half. So there's no holding back. We're not worried about their confidence. We're worried about them separating. So we're bringing it all."
Maye is a younger brother of Luke Maye, who was a North Carolina basketball standout on the 2017 title team.
The starter has fewer known and established playmaking weapons available than expected.
Running back British Brooks, who made significant late-season contributions last year, is out of the season after an injury. He was dubbed by Brown as the best blocker and best in terms of ball security among this year's running backs. Receiver Antoine Green had surgery for a collarbone injury and is expected to be out until at least late September.
The new starting quarterback will still have all-Atlantic Coast Conference receiver Josh Downs.
The Tar Heels can probably use a fresh start to a season after a tremendously disappointing 2021 season. They were ranked in the Top 10 when the season began, but ended up with a 6-7 record with a bowl loss.
Changes have extended well beyond the quarterback position. Gene Chizik has returned as defensive coordinator, replacing dismissed Jay Bateman.
Florida AM will arrive after a string of successes. The Rattlers were 9-2 in 2019 before the team's cancelled 2020 season. They followed that with a 9-3 record last year and a first-round loss to Southeastern Louisiana in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. That result snapped an eight-game winning streak.
Yet it could be looking better for Florida AM.
"The size of the guys and the speed and the athleticism is definitely improved," coach Willie Simmons said.
The mindset could be better as well. Linebacker Isaiah Land, who led the FCS with 19 sacks last season, said the Rattlers can make more strides.
"For the past two years, we had a championship-caliber team," Land said. "We just didn't have the discipline and leadership to be a championship team."
The defensive front could be the strength of the Florida AM team.
On offense, Florida AM has a big-time threat in receiver / punt returner Jah'Marae Sheread, who's in his second season with the Rattlers after transferring from Texas State.
Playing on the so-called Week Zero has benefits for North Carolina.
"It's a really good situation for us because we'll have an extra week of practice, more than Appalachian State, more than Georgia State," Brown said in reference to the team's next two opponents. "And then we have an open date before Notre Dame. So the positive is so very obvious. ... The negative is it makes your season long for your coaches and your players."
This game has been dubbed by North Carolina as the HBCU Celebration Game. The university has a number of weekend activities taking place on campus associated with the game and connections to HBCUs. Plus, Florida AM's famed Marching 100 band will perform pregame and at halftime.
This is a chance for Brown to direct a victory against a team from Tallahassee, Fla., where he's an alum of Florida State. As North Carolina's coach, Brown is 0-8 vs. Florida State.
--Field Level Media