Yesterday we kicked off our ACC football Q & A sessions by talking about the teams that could contend with Florida State for the ACC Conference Championship. Today we will take a look at some of the unknown players in the league who could become stars this season.
Joining us once again to discuss ACC football will be Brandon Rink from ACC Blogger, Chris Colston, the author of the HokieFootball Annual and our very own ACC football expert, Jimmy Shivers of The Saturday Edge.
Brandon Rink – ACC Blogger: Maybe not completely unknown, but definitely overshadowed last season is junior Clemson wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. He posted a quiet – thanks to Sammy Watkins’ breakout season – 978 yards with five touchdowns last season after a strong freshman year (637 yards and four touchdowns).
After splitting time with basketball last year, this was Hopkins‘ first full spring football season and by all accounts he was the MVP. With Watkins possibly out for a game or more after a marijuana possession arrest, Hopkins could emerge as a Biletnikoff Award candidate right beside the sophomore.
In Winston-Salem, Deacs running back Josh Harris is one to watch after missing most of last season with a hamstring injury, but he’s another one who had a strong spring and posted a top-five ACC rushing year as a freshman in 2010 with 720 yards (5.7 yards per carry) and seven touchdowns.
On other side of the ball, I’m looking at the next in line at the Cornerback U that is Virginia Tech in Jayron Hosley’s absence with juniors Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller. Exum is moving from safety to cornerback after being honorable mention All-ACC last season and 11th in the conference in passes defended. Virginia Tech returns its starting defensive line and top backups, which should keep the pressure on quarterbacks and in turn rack up the picks for this talented duo.
Chris Colston – The HokieFootball Annual: I can’t speak for the other teams in the league, but I can speak for Virginia Tech. Marcus Davis is the most likely breakout candidate at wide receiver, although some think D.J. Coles is the better player. With the loss of Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin, they’ll both have an opportunity to make a splash.
Freshman running back Michael Holmes is the heir apparent to David Wilson. And everybody knows if you’re the starting Hokies tailback, you’re going to put up numbers.
On defense, James Gayle could post double-digit sacks if he can stay healthy. Detrick Bonner could develop into an impact free safety.
Jimmy Shivers – The Saturday Edge: When looking for breakout players in the ACC this year, I’m more inclined to look to the offensive side of the ball as 11 of the 12 schools return a QB with at least 5 games of starting experience (Miami is the exception).
Their are several offenses this year that have a lot of potential to be prolific and we may see a final statsheet that more closely resembles the more recently explosive Big 12 and Pac 12. I think Bryn Renner of UNC has a chance to put up huge numbers, as the Tar Heels will be running a very high tempo offense (new HC Larry Fedora hopes to get in 80 plays per game) that will look to spread the ball around and should reward Renner’s accurate passing (68% last year with a 26:13 TD-INT ratio).
Renner isn’t the ideal spread offense QB as his mobility is very limited but he ran a similar offense in HS and has already proven himself to be a quick learner. The Heels were a little thin in the spring at WR but should have a good mix of athleticism and experience.
Other players who are a bit under the radar that have the potential to garner a lot of attention this year include Clemson WR DeAndre Hopkins, FSU WR Rashard Greene, Georgia Tech B-back Orwin Smith, and NCSU WR Tobias Palmer.
I think many of the defenses in this league will be a step behind this season but a few potential break-out defenders that I like include VT CB Kyle Fuller (the Hokies have outstanding tradition in the secondary and Fuller looks cut from the same cloth), GT linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu and UNC linebacker Kevin Riddick.
FSU DE Brandon Jenkins is already well-known to close followers of college football, but the outrageously talented Senior will anchor a potentially dominate FSU defense and has a realistic chance to come home with many end-of-year accolades on his way to the NFL.
Join us tomorrow as we look at which teams in the ACC are overrated and which teams are underrated. Please leave your comments below or Twitter us @saturdayedge. Thanks – Pez.