Predicting College Football's Breakout Players: ACC

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EJ Manuel should be a household name by the end of 2011.

EJ Manuel should be a household name by the end of 2011.

by Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)

What is a breakout player? Defining that term isn’t exactly easy. Although ACC fans are likely already familiar with the names on this list, this is Athlon’s attempt to peg the players that will be household names at the end of the 2011 season. These players may have started at some point in their career, but have yet to become a name familiar with all college football fans. 

Ray-Ray Armstrong, S, MiamiArmstrong started only three games last year, but finished with second-team All-ACC honors. He registered 79 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions. There’s no question about Armstrong’s talent, but he has to be more consistent this year. New head coach Al Golden should keep Armstrong motivated and if he puts it all together, an All-American season can’t be ruled out.

Andre Ellington, RB, ClemsonEllington was well on his way to a 1,000-yard season last year, but a toe injury limited him to only nine games. The junior rushed for 686 yards and 10 scores last season, which included 140 yards and a touchdown in a 27-24 loss to Auburn. As long as Ellington can stay healthy, he should be the focal point of the Clemson offense. The junior averaged nearly six yards a carry last season and can repeat that success with four starters returning on the offensive line. Expect Ellington to easily top 1,000 yards this year.

Jacob Fahrenkrug, OL, Florida State Rodney Hudson and Ryan McMahon have finished their eligibility, leaving two huge holes on Florida State’s offensive line. Fahrenkrug was brought in from North Dakota State College of Science to contend for a starting spot, and he exited spring practice as the team’s No. 1 center. The line struggled in spring practice, largely due to injuries. If Fahrenkrug continues to impress, he should find his way into the discussion for first-team All-ACC at the end of the year.

James Gayle, DE, Virginia TechGayle showed signs of becoming one of Virginia Tech’s top pass rushers last season, registering 13 tackles, 12 quarterback hurries and four sacks. He continued that development in the spring, earning the most valuable defensive player award. The Hokies could start three sophomores on the defensive line this year, but this group has a ton of potential. Considering Gayle’s work in limited action, he could breakout with a double-digit sack season.

Mike Glennon, QB, NC State Just like EJ Manuel and Logan Thomas, Glennon is already facing high expectations, but for a different reason. Tom O’Brien made a big (and somewhat surprising) decision this spring, when he decided to commit to Glennon as his starting quarterback and released Russell Wilson out of his scholarship at NC State. Glennon has played very little over the last two years, completing 33 of 52 passes for 326 yards and one score. Although Wilson had the edge in experience, his decision to play baseball in the spring led to his exit in Raleigh. Glennon ranked as the No. 3 quarterback coming out of high school by rivals.com, so the talent is certainly there. O’Brien is putting his faith in Glennon, and NC State’s success this year will depend on how fast he can emerge as one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks.

Josh Harris, RB, Wake ForestThere weren’t many bright spots for Wake Forest last year, but Harris was one of the few. He gashed Virginia Tech for 241 yards and two scores and finished the year by collecting 138 yards and a score against Vanderbilt. With Harris expected to shoulder most of the workload for Wake Forest this year, reaching 1,000 yards isn’t out of the question. However, the sophomore needs the passing attack to improve, which will help keep defenses from focusing too much on stopping the run.

Seantrel Henderson, OT, MiamiBack surgery could limit Henderson in fall practice, which also puts the start of his 2011 seasonBo in jeopardy. Henderson was regarded as one of the nation’s top prospects in the 2010 recruiting class and so far, has lived up to the hype. He started nine games at right tackle last year and was named to the FWAA Freshman All-America Team. The offensive line should be a strength in Miami this year and Henderson’s development could make this one of the top groups in college football.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson Clemson’s offense should be fun to watch this season. New coordinator Chad Morris produced one of the top scoring offenses in the nation at Tulsa last year. Although Morris likely won’t replicate averaging over 40 points per game, the Tigers will speed things up on offense. Hopkins is coming off a terrific freshman year, catching 52 passes for 637 yards and four scores. He posted three 100-yard games over the final four contests. If new quarterback Tajh Boyd settles into the job and the offense picks up Morris’ scheme, the Tigers could be dangerous on offense. 

James Hurst, OT, North Carolina With three starters returning, the Tar Heels should have one of the ACC’s top offensive lines. Hurst turned in a stellar freshman campaign last year, starting the final 12 games at left tackle. He also ranked third on the team with 33 knockdown blocks. Starting at left tackle as a true freshman is never easy, and Hurst can only get better from that experience in 2011.

Christian Jones, LB, Florida State There’s a lot of promising young talent in Tallahassee, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Jones played in 14 games last season, collecting 18 tackles, one fumble recovery and three sacks. The Seminoles must break in two new starters in the linebacking corps and all signs point to Jones starting on the strongside. If Nigel Bradham has a solid senior year and Jones emerges, Florida State could have one of the ACC’s top linebacking corps. Another breakout candidate to watch from Florida State will be defensive end Bjoern Werner.

Perry Jones, RB, VirginiaKeith Payne and Jones split the workload in the Virginia backfield last season. Jones finished with 646 yards and one score, while Payne added 749 yards and 14 touchdowns. With Payne out of eligibility, the job should fall to Jones. The junior will face competition from redshirt freshman Kevin Parks for playing time, but a full complement of carries makes 1,000 yards a realistic possibility.

David Mackall, DE, MarylandMackall is the biggest unknown on this list, but is one to watch early this year. The sophomore was shifted from linebacker to defensive end this spring and should be one of Maryland’s top pass rushers off the edge. Mackall registered three sacks and one interception in 12 games as a backup last year. Moving the sophomore to the edge should turn out to be a success for coordinator Todd Bradford and one that will benefit Maryland’s pass rush.

EJ Manuel, QB, Florida State Manuel already has six starts under his belt, including the ACC Championship last season and the 2010 Gator Bowl. The junior is 4-2 in those six starts and filled in admirably when Christian Ponder was knocked out of the Chick-fil-A Bowl last year. The junior has completed 67.3 percent of his passes over the last two seasons, but has thrown more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (6). He ranked among the top quarterbacks coming out of high school, and the Florida State offense should make a seamless transition from Ponder to Manuel. With a full year to grow as the starter, Manuel should cut down on his mistakes and could finish the year as the ACC’s top quarterback.

Davin Meggett, RB, Maryland The Terrapins are the ACC’s most mysterious team. New coach Randy Edsall had a conservative, run-first offense at Connecticut, but it’s unclear if that approach will remain at Maryland. If Edsall keeps a run-first mentality, Meggett should easily post the best rushing totals of his career. The senior rushed for 720 yards and four scores on 126 attempts last year, with one 100-yard performance coming against Navy. D.J. Adams is a threat to Meggett’s playing time, but the opportunity is there for the senior to close his career as one of the top rushers in the ACC this year.

Lamar Miller, RB, MiamiConsidering the talent Miami brings in every year, it’s a surprise to see the last Hurricane running back to get to 1,000 yards was Willis McGahee in 2002. Miller has a chance to break through that barrier this year. The sophomore finished behind Damien Berry for the team lead in rushing, posting 646 yards on 108 attempts. Miller had two 100-yard efforts last season, including 163 against Virginia Tech. Mike James is expected to figure into the workload, but Miller is poised to see the bulk of the carries. With one of the ACC’s top offensive lines returning, look for Miller to surpass 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. 

Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina Even with Marvin Austin and Robert Quinn suspended for all of last year, the Tar Heels still possessed one of the ACC’s best defensive lines. Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell emerged as two of the best linemen in the ACC and could be joined by Paige-Moss in that group this year. The junior registered 49 tackles, one forced fumble and seven sacks last season. With Coples on the other side, Paige-Moss will likely see plenty of single coverage and could approach 10 sacks in 2011.

Kevin Pierre-Louis, LB, Boston College Luke Kuechly is one of the nation’s top linebackers, but don’t overlook his teammate in Chestnut Hill. Pierre-Louis had a solid freshman year, collecting 93 stops and one fumble recovery. He also started all 13 games last season. All of the attention will be focused on Kuechly (and rightfully so), but keep a close watch on Pierre-Louis, as he develops into one of the ACC’s top linebackers.

Orwin Smith, RB, Georgia TechThere’s a lot of names vying for carries this fall, but Georgia Tech has produced a 1,000-yard rusher in each of the last five seasons. Smith saw limited action last year, averaging 9.7 yards per carry on 53 attempts. He posted 88 yards on 12 carries against Miami, but is still looking for his first 100-yard effort. Even if Smith has to share touches with Roddy Jones, Preston Lyons or Charles Perkins, he could be the team’s top big-play option and a threat to continue the streak of 1,000-yard rushers.

Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech – Tyrod Taylor will be missed, but Thomas is Virginia Tech's next star at quarterback. The sophomore was considered a tight end prospect by some coming out of high school, but sticking at quarterback looks like the best decision for the Hokies. Thomas completed 12 of 26 passes and caught one touchdown catch in limited work last year. At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Thomas has drawn comparisons to former Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. The sophomore is raw as a passer, but his athletic ability should be able to compensate for some of his growing pains. With a favorable schedule, Virginia Tech could be a darkhorse contender for the national title.

David Wilson, RB, Virginia TechWilson has waited his turn and 2011 is finally his year. Ryan Williams and Darren Evans both bolted to the NFL, leaving Wilson as the unquestioned starter. He rushed for 619 yards and five scores on 113 attempts last year, while scoring twice on a kickoff returns and four times through receptions. The Hokies are in great shape on the offensive line, which should pave the way for Wilson to rush for over 1,000 yards this year, and he could work his way into discussion for the postseason All-American team.

Other ACC Content:

Ranking the Top 25 Players in the ACC for 2011

2011 ACC Predictions
Ranking the Coaching Jobs in the ACC

Athlon's 2011 All-ACC Team
Why Does Clemson Continue to Struggle?

T
he Carolina Way

A Golden Era at the U

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<p> ACC fans are likely already familiar with the names on this list, but which players will be household names by the end of 2011?</p>
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