Like in 2017 and 2015, the North Carolina Tar Heels enter the 2018 preseason with a quarterback battle. After so many battles in years past, Coach Larry Fedora can recite his talking points on a QB competition near effortlessly for this year's iteration between Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt, after both got extended runs as the starter in 2017.
"We're looking for separation. That's the No. 1 thing, somebody that takes over the team, and then the team becomes theirs," Fedora said. "They've got to be able to run the plays, run the offense, take command of the offense, have a presence out there that all the guys relate to. They have to be an influencer. They've got to be able to influence the guys around them. They've got to be able to raise the level of the players around them. They do that, then they've got to do the same things off the field.
"And when somebody separates themselves from the others, then we'll make a call."
It's the same rhetoric Fedora had last year, when a four-way competition broke out at the start of fall camp, and with the similarity in production between the two quarterbacks last season (Surratt: 131.22 QB efficiency, 1342 yds, 8 TD, 3 INT in 9 games, Elliott: 120.34 QB efficiency, 925 yds, 10 TD, 5 INT in 5 games), one might not expect there to be much separation until the last possible second.
But Anthony Ratliff-Williams has noticed differences, but maybe not seperation in the two. Not in the way they play, they can both get the junior wideout the ball. But in the way they carry themselves, in the way they lead.
Elliott, always talking on the field and rallying his teammates, getting them ready to play. Surratt, keeping the same calm demeanor regardless of the situation, good or bad. Two different styles, but two styles Ratliff-Williams and the rest of the team's offense are comfortable with.
"Everybody understands what's going on and what's the situation is, so nobody has a favorite, because it could be either one," he said. "We both know they're leaders, but they're just leaders in their own way. You take Nathan who's more vocal, and Chazz, who's more gonna keep everybody even. Whichever one's in, that's what we're going to do. Either one is going to win us games."
Fedora has his own comparisons for each QB, but not to one another. He instead thinks of them like two of his old quarterbacks. For Elliott, Austin Davis, a former walk-on of Fedora's at Southern Mississippi and current backup QB with the Seattle Seahawks. A shorter quarterback with a strong arm and vocal demeanor. For Surratt, former Oklahoma State QB Zach Robinson, a dual-threat quarterback capable of 800 yards rushing and 3000 yards passing in a single season.
A former star high school quarterback himself, Ratliff-Williams knows a thing or two about what it takes at that position. He's even got some skill at the college level too, tossing two touchdowns a season ago amongst three completions on gadget plays. He knows what it'll take, and he doesn't have a preference who ends up the starter in Berkley just over a month from now. He just wants them to be ready to lead the team to "the promised land," whichever quarterback's time comes.
"Every quarterback has their own niche. Every quarterback in the country has something they're good at, that they're special at," Ratliff-Williams said. "It's just a matter of getting out of your own way to show the guys, show your teammates: this is the way it's going to be."