Athlon Awards: Ranking the Best Units in the ACC

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EJ Manuel should be one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC by season's end.

<p> The Athlon Awards for 2011 continue with a look at the best units in the ACC.</p>

Kickoff for the 2011 season is just a few weeks away. To help pass the time before the opening weekend, Athlon will be taking a look at the best units by conference. 

The ACC has a lot of turnover at quarterback this year, but should be pretty strong on defense. Florida State takes home an Athlon award for two units on defense and for the receivers on offense. The Seminoles are Athlon's pick to win the ACC crown and they fare quite well in the overall unit rankings at each position.

A "1" signifies the best unit in conference, while a "12" indicates the worst.

Athlon's 2011 ACC Unit Rankings

Quarterbacks – Maryland
Deciding the ACC's No. 1 quarterback isn't easy. Maryland's Danny O'Brien gets the nod - for now - but don't be surprised if Florida State's EJ Manuel finishes 2011 as the top quarterback in the conference. Maryland rebounded from a 2–10 record in 2009 to win nine games in ’10 due in large part to the emergence of O’Brien, who took over the No. 1 quarterback spot in Week 4 and went on to win ACC Rookie of the Year honors. The 6-foot-3 North Carolina native threw for 2,438 yards and 22 touchdowns with only eight interceptions. O’Brien owns the top five single-game passing performances by a freshman in Maryland history, highlighted by his 417-yard, four-touchdown game in the Terps’ 38–31 win over NC State to end the regular season. 

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Florida State
3. Duke
4. Virginia Tech
5. Miami
6. NC State
7. Clemson
8. Boston College
9. North Carolina
10. Georgia Tech
11. Wake Forest
12. Virginia

Running Backs – Boston College
A knee injury sidelined Montel Harris for the final two games of 2010, but he is expected to be at full strength when the season kicks off. Harris is the NCAA’s active career leader in rushing yards with 3,600 and figures to top 1,000 yards for the third straight season. When Harris was out last year, the rushing attack didn’t miss a beat thanks to Andre Williams. As a true freshman, Williams rushed for 363 yards and two scores in the final three games, and his emergence will allow the offense to give Harris more rest in 2011.

(Note: Although depth was considered, much of the emphasis for the rankings at this position was based upon the starter.)

2. Virginia Tech
3. Clemson
4. Florida State
5. Miami
6. Maryland
7. Georgia Tech
8. Wake Forest
9. North Carolina
10. NC State
11. Virginia
12. Duke

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends – Florida State
The Seminoles may lack a true standout in this group, but what they lack in star power is made up in depth. Four receivers with at least 30 receptions return, along with steady tight end Beau Reliford. Willie Haulstead is the big-play threat for quarterback EJ Manuel, averaging 15.4 yards per catch last year. Bert Reed led the team with 58 catches. This unit is expected to get contributions from promising redshirt freshman Christian Green, sophomore Kenny Shaw and incoming freshman Kelvin Benjamin.

2. Duke
3. Virginia Tech
4. North Carolina
5. Miami
6. Clemson
7. Maryland
8. Boston College
9. Virginia
10. NC State
11. Wake Forest
12. Georgia Tech

Offensive Line – Virginia Tech
The ACC doesn't have a standout line, but is deep with some solid fronts. With four starters back, Virginia Tech should be the best of the bunch. Guard Jaymes Brooks and tackle Blake DeChristopher figure to be among the top linemen in the conference, while Andrew Lanier and Greg Nosal are back after each started 14 games last year. Nosal and DeChristopher are both sidelined for the start of fall practice due to injuries. Both are expected back for the season opener. Center is the biggest concern with the departure of Beau Warren. This group will be blocking for first-year starting quarterback Logan Thomas.

2. Miami
3. Clemson
4. Florida State
5. North Carolina
6. NC State
7. Maryland
8. Virginia
9. Boston College
10. Georgia Tech
11. Duke
12. Wake Forest

Defensive Line – Florida State
The Seminoles showed big improvement up front last year, tying for the national lead with 48 sacks and finishing 29th against the run. End Brandon Jenkins is among the best pass-rushers in the nation and should push for first-team All-America honors this year. Joining Jenkins at end will be sophomores Bjoern Werner and Dan Hicks, along with junior college recruit Tank Carradine. The Seminoles are loaded on the interior, with Anthony McCloud, Jacobbi McDaniel, Everett Dawkins and Demonte McAllister all returning.

2. North Carolina
3. Miami
4. Clemson
5. Maryland
6. Virginia Tech
7. Boston College
8. NC State
9. Georgia Tech
10. Virginia
11. Wake Forest
12. Duke

Linebackers – Boston College
Luke Kuechly has ranked among the nation’s leading tacklers the last two seasons and returns for his junior year to anchor this unit. Kuechly is an Athlon Sports preseason first-team All-American and will be joined in the starting lineup by Kevin Pierre-Louis. The sophomore registered 93 tackles last year and could emerge as an all-conference player by season’s end. Sophomore Steele Divitto or Nick Clancy will battle to fill the spot vacated by Mark Herzlich.

2. North Carolina
3. Miami
4. Maryland
5. Florida State
6. Virginia Tech
7. NC State
8. Georgia Tech
9. Clemson
10. Wake Forest
11. Virginia
12. Duke

Defensive Backs – Florida State
This group took its lumps last year but should develop into one of the nation’s top defensive backfields in 2011. The Seminoles own one of the top cornerback duos in college football, with Greg Reid and Xavier Rhodes returning after All-ACC-caliber performances in ‘10. Upgrading the safety positions will be critical to this unit’s success. Nick Moody and Terrance Parks are returning starters but will be pushed for playing time by converted corner Lamarcus Joyner and freshman Karlos Williams, one of the top recruits in the nation.

2. Virginia Tech
3. Miami
4. Virginia
5. Clemson
6. Boston College
7. Maryland
8. NC State
9. North Carolina
10. Wake Forest
11. Georgia Tech
12. Duke

After ranking all of the individual units in the conference, here's a look at what the combined totals look like - 

  QB RB WR/TE OL DL LB DB Totals
Florida State 2 4 1 4 1 5 1 18
Virginia Tech 4 2 3 1 6 6 2 24
Miami 5 5 5 2 3 3 3 26
Clemson 7 3 6 3 4 9 5 37
Maryland 1 6 7 7 5 4 7 37
Boston College 8 1 8 9 7 1 6 40
North Carolina 9 9 4 5 2 2 9 40
NC State 6 10 10 6 8 7 8 55
Duke 3 12 2 11 12 12 12 64
Virginia 12 11 9 8 10 11 4 65
Georgia Tech 10 7 12 10 9 8 11 67
Wake Forest 11 8 11 12 11 10 10 73

Although the unit rankings are an inexact science, it's interesting to see how teams finished, compared to preseason predictions. According to our 2011 ACC picks, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Miami were the top three teams in the ACC and the unit rankings agree. However, Clemson and Maryland were the next two on the list, which jumped NC State in the Athlon's predicted 120. Georgia Tech was Athlon's pick to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal, but the unit rankings suggest they are the worst team in that division.

Other ACC Content:

Ranking the ACC's Top 25 Players for 2011
Predicting the 2011 Breakout Players: ACC

2011 ACC Championship: Florida State or the field?

Who Will Coach North Carolina in 2012?

Athlon's 2011 All-ACC Team

Athlon's 2011 ACC Predictions

CFB Conferences: 

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