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Athlon Sports ranks the best ACC wide receivers of the BCS Era.
The Bowl Championship Series is dead. But even the harshest of BCS detractors must acknowledge that the 16-year run was arguably the best era of college football in the history of the sport.
The era was highlighted by the advent of the BCS Championship Game, conference realignment and mega-dollar contracts for conferences, programs and coaches. But the elite athletes had a huge, if not the biggest, hand in the unprecedented growth of college football over the last two decades.
So Athlon Sports is looking back on the players that made the BCS Era great — conference-by-conference, position-by-position.
Surprisingly, the ACC has a long list of excellent wide receivers as nearly 30 players have topped 2,500 yards receiving in their ACC careers. For some perspective, Desmond Clark, Eron Riley, Donovan Varner, Dwight Jones, Rich Gunnell, Stefon Diggs, Jacoby Ford, Quinshad Davis, Owen Spencer, Erik Highsmith, Dez White and Scottie Montgomery all failed to make the Top 25.
Note: Must have played at least one season between 1998-13 in the conference.
1. Calvin Johnson, Georgia Tech (2004-06)
Stats: 178 rec., 2,927 yds, 28 TDs, 40 rush, TD
Appropriately nicknamed Megatron, no player has demonstrated the combination of size and speed that Johnson brought to the Ramblin Wreck offense. The Tyrone (Ga.) Sandy Creek prospect was the ACC Rookie of the Year in 2004 before earning back-to-back All-American honors in 2005-06. He owns school records for receiving yards and touchdowns during his time at Tech and claimed the Biletnikoff Award as well as ACC Player of the Year honors in 2006. He is one of 13 wide receivers to finish in the top 10 in the Heisman Trophy voting during the BCS Era (10th). He is simply a freak of nature.
2. Peter Warrick, Florida State (1995-99)
Stats: 207 rec., 3,517 yds, 32 TDs, 188 rush, 4 TDs, 937 ret. yds, 6 TDs
The phrase all-purpose wasn’t en vogue when Warrick broke onto the scene so the Bradenton (Fla.) Southeast superstar might deserve credit for the invention. And if not for an incident at Dillard’s Department Store that resulted in a two-game suspension, Warrick likely would have won the Heisman Trophy. The two-time consensus All-American could do it all. His joystick, open-field moves made him dynamic in the passing game, on special teams and he was one of the first wideouts used in the running game. His Sugar Bowl MVP performance — and touchdown catch — in the 1999 national championship game (six rec., 163 yds, three total TDs) will go down as one of the greatest national title performances in NCAA history.
3. Sammy Watkins, Clemson (2011-13)
Stats: 240 rec., 3,391 yards, 27 TDs, 339 rush, TD, 1,399 ret. yards, TD
Watkins did it all at Clemson. A freakish athlete with the ability to score on any play from anywhere on the field, Watkins helped lead Clemson to a 32-8 record during his three seasons. He finished No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 240 receptions, No. 3 all-time with 3,391 yards receiving and tied for eighth all-time with 27 receiving touchdowns. And he did all of this in just three seasons, while bringing an ACC title back to Clemson for the first time in decades. His 5,129 all-purpose yards are ninth all-time in league history. His 101 receptions in 2013 would have been a single-season ACC record if not for Duke’s Jamison Crowder and his 108 catches this fall. His 1,464 yards in his final season is second all-time to Torry Holt (1,604) and his 82 catches and 12 TDs in 2011 were both ACC records for freshmen.
4. Torry Holt, NC State (1995-98)
Stats: 191 rec., 3,379 yds, 31 TDs, 119 rush
One of the greatest receivers to ever play the game on any level, Holt capped his outstanding Wolfpack career with an ACC Player of the Year award in the first year of the BCS. Over his final two seasons in Raleigh, the Gibsonville (N.C.) Eastern Guilford receiver caught 150 passes for 2,703 yards and 27 touchdowns (he also threw a 45-yard TD pass), finishing eighth in the Heisman voting in 1998. Holt set all types of NC State and ACC records during his college career and he went on to become one of the NFL’s greatest wide receivers. No one ever had a better game during the BCS Era than Holt when he posted 255 yards against Baylor in 1998.
5. Jerricho Cotchery, NC State (2000-03)
Stats: 200 rec., 3,119 yards, 21 TDs, 102 rush, TD, 300 ret. yards, TD
Following in Holt’s footsteps in Raleigh, Cotchery nearly duplicated his predecessor’s production. The Wolfpack playmaker is tied for second in ACC history with 15 100-yard receiving games, posted the fourth-best single-season yardage total in 2003 (1,369) and, at the time, was No. 2 all-time with 86 receptions that same year. Cotchery is ninth all-time in league history with 200 receptions and sixth all-time with 3,119 yards, the first of which is still an NC State record.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, Clemson (2010-12)
Stats: 206 rec., 3,020 yds, 27 TDs
His teammate Watkins garnered all of the attention but Hopkins was virtually unstoppable at Clemson as well. He finished tied with Watkins (and the great Herman Moore) for eighth all-time in ACC history with 27 touchdown catches, including a magical 2012 season that featured the ACC’s single-season record of 18 and then-No. 2 yardage total of 1,405 yards. Hopkins, in just three seasons, is eighth all-time with 206 catches and seventh all-time with 3,020 yards. He posted 12 100-yard games in his career and was a first-round pick of the Houston Texans.
7. Hakeem Nicks, North Carolina (2006-08)
Stats: 181 rec., 2,840 yards, 21 TDs, 43 rush, TD, 235 ret. yards
Much like Hopkins, Watkins and Megatron, Nicks’ ACC star shined briefly but brightly. In three seasons, he set single-season and career North Carolina school receiving records in every major category and proved to be one of the most explosive offensive threats in college football. He led the ACC in receiving in 2008 (1,222) and posted 10 career 100-yard games while at Chapel Hill. Nicks was the 29th overall pick of the 2009 NFL Draft.
8. Conner Vernon, Duke (2009-12)
Stats: 283 rec., 3,749 yds, 21 TDs, 570 ret. yds
When it comes to career accomplishments, no one in the ACC can match Vernon’s production at Duke. He is the ACC’s all-time leading receiver in yards and receptions by a fairly wide margin. Watkins trails his 283 receptions by 43 and Warrick trails his 3,749 yards receiving by over 200 yards. He posted three straight seasons with at least 950 yards and 70 receptions from 2010-12 and helped Duke return to the postseason for the first time in 18 years. He wasn’t overly gifted or explosive but was a model of consistency and a huge part of the David Cutcliffe rebuild in Durham.
9. Billy McMullen, Virginia (1999-02)
Stats: 210 rec., 2,978 yards, 24 TDs
When McMullen left Charlottesville, he was one of the most prolific players in league history. When he graduated, McMullen was second all-time to only Desmond Clark by six receptions and fourth all-time in yards. Since, he has dropped to fifth and eighth respectively. Like Vernon, he was a consistent force for his team for four full seasons and his numbers portray it. He also helped his team to three bowl games in four years under two different coaches — which is much easier said than done at Virginia these days.
10. Marvin Minnis, Florida State (1997-2000)
Stats: 115 rec., 2,098 yds, 17 TDs
"Snoop" didn’t do a whole lot playing behind Peter Warrick for the first three years of his career in Tallahassee. But this changed in a big way during this senior season. As one of just two consensus All-Americans from the ACC at wide receiver (Johnson), Minnis caught 63 passes for a then ACC-record 1,340 yards — an absurd 21.3 yards per catch — and 11 touchdowns in ’00. He played on four ACC title teams and for a team that went to three straight BCS title games with a championship in ’99.
Just missed the cut:
11. Koren Robinson, NC State (1999-2000)
Stats: 110 rec., 1,914 yards, 15 TDs, 110 rush, 872 ret. yards, 2 TDs
Robinson only played two seasons but was a huge success in his short time in Raleigh. In just 22 career games, he posted 14 100-yard games — which trails only Clarkston Hines, Cotchery and Jermaine Lewis in ACC history. Robinson’s big-play ability was evident on special teams as well and it got him drafted ninth overall in the 2001 NFL Draft.
12. Kelly Campbell, Georgia Tech (1998-01)
Stats: 195 rec., 2,907 yards, 24 TDs, 152 rush, 3 TDs, 1,415 ret. yards
The smallish do-everything player is Tech’s all-time leading receiver with 195 catches. He was used all over the field and is top 15 in ACC history in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He went to four bowls and was one of Joey Hamilton’s top targets.
13. Demaryius Thomas, Georgia Tech (2007-09)
Stats: 120 rec., 2,339 yards, 15 TDs
From a talent standpoint, Thomas is one of the league’s best of all-time. Unfortunately, he played in the triple option offense and no one will ever know what his numbers would have been if he had Philip Rivers or Tajh Boyd as his college quarterback.
14. Chris Givens, Wake Forest (2009-11)
Stats: 163 rec., 2,473 yards, 21 TDs, 238 yards, 2 TDs, 798 ret. yards
From an speed and explosiveness standpoint, few can match Givens' all-around ability. He was dynamic in the receiving, running and return games. His 1,330 yards in 2011 are sixth all-time in ACC history and his brief NFL career has verified his excellent college production.
15. Aaron Kelly, Clemson (2005-08)
Stats: 232 rec., 2,733 yds, 20 TDs, 417 ret. yds
Before Watkins passed him this year, Kelly was No. 2 all-time in ACC history with 232 receptions. He is top 20 in yards and touchdowns and his 88 catches in 2007 are fourth-best in ACC history.
Best of the rest:
16. Greg Carr, Florida St (2005-08): 148 rec., 2,574 yards, 29 TDs
Tied for fourth all-time in ACC history with 29 TD catches.
17. Rashad Greene, Florida St (2011-pres.): 171 rec., 2,465 yards, 22 TDs, 373 ret. yards, 2 TDs
All-around production, NFL ability, championships and longevity.
18. Torrey Smith, Maryland (2008-10): 152 rec., 2,215 yds, 19 TDs, 2,983 ret. yds, 3 TDs
Big-play machine is eighth all-time in ACC history with 5,264 all-purpose yards.
19. Rod Gardner, Clemson (1997-00): 159 rec., 2,404 yards, 12 TDs
Led the ACC in receptions (80) in 1999 and was a first-round pick in the 2001 NFL Draft.
20. Kelvin Benjamin, Florida St (2012-13): 84 rec., 1,506 yards, 19 TDs
Freakish clone of Megatron is one of six ACC players to ever catch 15 TDs in one year.
21. Jamison Crowder, Duke (2011-pres.): 198 rec., 2,597 yards, 17 TDs, 1,493 ret. yards
Will be top five in ACC in receptions, yards and AP yards with third 1,000-yard season in ‘14.
22. Derrick Hamilton, Clemson (2001-03): 163 rec., 2,218 yds, 15 TDs, 340 rush, 2 TDs, 2,187 ret. yds, 2 TDs
Fourth in ACC history among wide receivers with 4,745 all-purpose yards.
23. Michael Campanaro, Wake Forest (2010-13): 229 rec., 2,506 yards, 14 TDs, 238 rush, 2 TD,s 984 ret. yards, TD
Tied ACC single-game record with 16 catches (2012) and is No. 4 all-time in receptions.
24. Jarrett Boykin, Virginia Tech (2008-11): 184 rec., 2,884 yards, 18 TDs
Tech’s all-time leader in receptions and yards on two ACC title teams.
25. Kenny Moore, Wake Forest (2004-07): 139 rec., 1,458 yards, 7 TDs, 829 rush, 5 TDs, 657 ret. yds, TD
Set ACC single-season record with 98 catches in ’07 (since broken). All-purpose dynamo.