Sam Howell has moved well past freshman-level studies at North Carolina.
He is playing his way to the top of the class of Atlantic Coast Conference's quarterbacks.
Howell leads the ACC with 20 touchdown passes after tying the North Carolina record with five in last week's 43-41, six-overtime loss to Virginia Tech. He passed for 348 yards with no interceptions and was named the conference's top quarterback of the week for the third time this season.
For North Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo, it's more proof that Howell is no ordinary first-year quarterback. He said Howell is "beyond the 101 stage" of lessons.
"I mean, Sam, he studies the game, he cares, he's passionate about it," Longo said Monday. "That's all part of what makes him as good as he is right now, and we still have things we need to get better at. But I really like where the process is and I like the fact that he accepts just about every challenge I give him."
Howell was a unanimous selection for the ACC's top freshman of the first half of the season in balloting by The Associated Press writers covering the conference. It was the only unanimous vote of nine categories.
He has set a school record for touchdown passes by a freshman while throwing only three interceptions. He is a key to coach Mack Brown's rebuilding effort at North Carolina (3-4, 2-2 ACC) entering Saturday's game against Duke (4-3, 2-2).
In addition to Howell's sweep of the top freshman vote, here are some of the ACC's best — and worst — of the season so far in voting by AP writers:
COACH OF THE FIRST HALF
Dave Clawson, Wake Forest. Clawson's Demon Deacons, picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic, are 6-1 overall, 2-1 in the ACC and ranked No. 25. Also receiving votes: Scott Satterfield, Louisville; Dabo Swinney, Clemson.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Jamie Newman, QB, Wake Forest. Newman leads the league in passing efficiency and his average of 295.3 yards passing per game. Also receiving votes: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson; AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College; Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest; Howell.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE FIRST HALF
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson. Simmons, a junior, leads the Tigers with 5 1/2 sacks and 49 tackles. He ranks among the league's top six leaders in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Also receiving votes: Rayshard Ashby, LB, Virginia Tech; Jaylen Twyman, DT, Pittsburgh.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM
Coming off a 2-10 season, Louisville (4-3, 2-2) edged Wake Forest as the biggest surprise of the first half. Led by first-year coach Satterfield, the former Appalachian State coach, Louisville took wins over Boston College and Wake Forest in consecutive weeks. Also receiving votes: Wake Forest, North Carolina, Pittsburgh.
MOST SURPRISING PLAYER
Surratt. A dominant season for the third-year sophomore continued when he had seven catches for 170 yards in a 22-20 win over Florida State last week. He already has four games with at least 150 yards this season and leads the league in most receiving statistics, including nine scoring catches. Also receiving votes: Howell, Newman.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM
Syracuse (3-4, 0-3) is the only team without an ACC win. This follows a 10-win season in 2018. Coach Dino Babers is encouraged the Orange have been close in most games. He said there could be lineup changes in this week's game against Florida State. Also receiving votes: Miami.
Willie Taggart, Florida State. The loss to Wake Forest last week left the Seminoles (3-4, 2-3) with losing records overall and in the conference for the second straight season. He is 8-11 in two seasons at Florida State. Also receiving votes: Steve Addazio, Boston College.
Bryce Hall, CB, Virginia. Hall led the nation in 22 pass breakups last season. He was a preseason year and a midseason All-America pick this season despite suffering a season-ending ankle injury in a loss at Miami on Oct. 11. Also receiving votes: Anthony Brown, QB, Boston College.