Every year, college football fans are introduced to a handful of players that become household names by the end of the season. Predicting which players will breakout any year is never an easy task.
The ACC has a solid group of players waiting to break out in 2013, including Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. The redshirt freshman already has an enormous preseason buzz thanks to a strong performance this spring, but his emergence will keep the Seminoles in the hunt for a top-10 finish in the final BCS standings and a big-time bowl in 2013. On the defensive side, Clemson safety Travis Blanks and Virginia’s Eli Harold are two players to watch this year.
Defining what is a breakout player is nearly impossible. Everyone has a different perspective on how players are viewed around the conference and nationally. Athlon's list of breakout players for 2013 tries to take into account which names will be known nationally (not just within the conference) by the end of season. So while some of these players on this list are known to fans of a particular team, the rest of the conference or nation might not be as familiar.
ACC Breakout Players for 2013
Adam Bisnowaty, OT, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been under the spotlight over the last few years, as the unit has struggled to find consistency. And there's plenty of work ahead for coach Paul Chryst, as the Panthers allowed 38 sacks last season and must replace center Ryan Turnley and guard Chris Jacobson. However, there’s reason for hope in the trenches for 2013. True freshman Dorian Johnson could stabilize the right side, and the coaching staff is excited about the potential of Bisnowaty at left tackle. After spending last year as a redshirt, the Pittsburgh native is poised to start from the opening snap and protect the blindside for quarterback Tom Savage.
Travis Blanks, S, Clemson
The ACC doesn’t have many returning standouts at safety this year, so there’s an opportunity for players like Blanks to become a household name by the end of 2013. The Tallahassee native was regarded as a top-15 recruit by ESPN in the 2012 signing class, and the Clemson coaching staff wasted no time getting him on the field. Blanks played in 13 contests and recorded 51 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception in 2012. He was named Clemson’s defensive player of the game against Ball State and recorded eight stops in the 49-37 loss to Florida State. With the Tigers entering their second season under coordinator Brent Venables, this unit expects to take a step forward in 2013 and should finish higher than seventh in the ACC in yards allowed. If Blanks builds off a strong freshman effort, he could be one of the conference’s top safeties in 2013.
Anthony Boone, QB, Duke
Duke coach David Cutcliffe has an excellent track record when it comes to developing quarterbacks, so it’s no surprise most around Durham aren’t sweating the transition from Sean Renfree to Boone. The junior shined in limited work last season, which included an impressive 212-yard and four touchdown performance in a 42-17 win over Virginia last year. Boone was steady as a passer in limited work in 2012, but he also gives Duke more of a running threat at quarterback. Even though Renfree and receiver Conner Vernon will be missed, Boone’s emergence will keep Duke’s offense performing at a high level once again in 2013.
Jay Bromley, DT, Syracuse
Bromley has developed into a steady performer for Syracuse’s defensive line, and in his senior year, the New York native is poised to push for all-conference honors. In 13 games last season, Bromley recorded 39 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss. The 2012 numbers were a slight improvement from 2011, as Bromley made 32 stops and 1.5 sacks in his first year as a starter. As a defensive tackle, Bromley isn’t going to record huge tackle or sack totals. However, after battling an ankle injury last year, the senior is poised to jump onto the radar for NFL scouts and is expected to be a key piece in Syracuse’s defense.
Deon Bush, S, Miami
Finding answers on defense is the top priority for Miami coach Al Golden this offseason. The Hurricanes ranked last in the ACC in rushing, pass and total defense, and coordinator Mark D’Onofrio will have seven new full-time starters stepping into the lineup. Bush was one of the few bright spots for Miami last year, as he recorded 34 stops, three forced fumbles and one tackle for a loss. Even though he’s only a sophomore, Bush should be a leader in Miami’s secondary in 2013 and is expected to push for All-ACC honors.
Brandon Chubb, LB, Wake Forest
Eight starters are back for the Demon Deacons defense, which should easily allow this unit to improve off of a lackluster 2012 campaign. Chubb played sparingly in his redshirt freshman campaign and finished the year with 22 tackles in 12 contests. The sophomore has excellent bloodlines, as his father (Aaron) played at Georgia from 1985-88 and was drafted by the Patriots in 1989. Chubb made his biggest impact on special teams last season but is slated to slide into the starting lineup on defense in 2013. If Chubb translates his production and potential from special teams to defense, Wake Forest’s linebacking corps could be among the best in the ACC.
Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
Even with Xavier Rhodes departing Tallahassee for the NFL, Florida State’s secondary should be among the nation’s best in 2013. Lamarcus Joyner will slide from safety to corner to help replace Rhodes, but Darby’s emergence is another factor helping to keep the Seminoles near the top of the ACC in pass defense. The Maryland native was solid in his debut season, recording 22 tackles and eight pass breakups. Darby missed spring practice due to injury, but the sophomore should slide into a starting spot over Nick Waisome this fall. New coordinator Jeremy Pruitt will make some tweaks to Florida State’s defense, which is expected to include more press coverage. All signs point to Darby emerging as one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks this year.
Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State
The Seminoles lose four key players from a defensive line that played a significant role in finishing first in the ACC in rush defense, along with ranking sixth nationally in points allowed. While ends Bjoern Werner and Tank Carradine will be missed, there’s no shortage of talent returning to Tallahassee. The next star on Florida State’s line should be Edwards, who was pressed into action after an early-season injury to Brandon Jenkins. Although it was a small sample size, Edwards showcased why he was one of the top recruits in the 2012 signing class, recording 17 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for a loss. With a full offseason to work in the weight room and learn under new ends coach Sal Sunseri, Edwards is primed for a breakout year in Tallahassee.
Alex Figueroa, LB, Miami
Much like every area on the Miami defense, the linebacking corps has plenty of room to improve in 2013. And this unit will feature a revamped starting trio in 2013, as Gionni Paul and Eddie Johnson did not return to the team. Junior Denzel Perryman is a good place to start the rebuilding effort, but the Hurricanes are excited about the potential of Figueroa. The true freshman finished spring practice as a starter on the depth chart and appears poised to hold onto the job this fall. At 6-foot-3 and 233 pounds, Figueroa has the size to provide some much-needed punch to Miami’s lackluster run defense.
Eli Harold, DE, Virginia
It’s an overused cliché, but Virginia’s defense should be more aggressive in 2013. Jon Tenuta joins the Cavaliers’ staff from NC State, and the veteran coordinator has promised to turn up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks this year. Harold should benefit from the change in schemes and is expected to be the unit’s top pass-rusher. In 12 games last year as a true freshman, Harold recorded 36 stops, two sacks and one forced fumble. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, the Virginia native has the athleticism to be a standout pass-rusher and could easily triple his sack total from last season under Tenuta’s direction.
Demitri Knowles, WR, Virginia Tech
After finishing third in the ACC in total offense in 2011, the Hokies backtracked in 2012, ranking ninth in the conference. As a result of the struggles, coach Frank Beamer decided to revamp his offensive staff, with Scot Loeffler coming over from Auburn to call the plays. Loeffler is tasked with getting quarterback Logan Thomas back on track, but Thomas also needs more help from his supporting cast. The Hokies must replace their top three receivers from last year, including Marcus Davis (51 catches) and Corey Fuller (43 receptions). Knowles grabbed 19 receptions for 240 yards and one score as a true freshman and returned one kickoff for a score. D.J. Coles is back after missing most of last year with a knee injury, but the pressure is on Knowles to be one of the go-to (if not No. 1) targets for Virginia Tech.
Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech
Fans of the ACC are certainly familiar with Lee, but the rest of the college football world should take notice of the sophomore in 2013. The North Carolina native did not record a start under center but played in 12 of Georgia Tech’s 14 contests. Lee threw for 596 yards and four touchdowns and showcased his athleticism by averaging 5.7 yards per carry on 96 attempts. He scored nine times on 96 attempts and had a 79-yard run against Presbyterian. Lee doesn’t have to be a dynamic thrower in Georgia Tech’s option attack, but he should be an upgrade in the passing attack over Tevin Washington.
Jordan Leggett, TE, Clemson
After Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford shined under the tutelage of coordinator Chad Morris, it's easy to pinpoint Leggett as Clemson’s next star at tight end. The true freshman will be pressed into significant time this year, as the Tigers lost expected starter Sam Cooper to a torn ACL in the spring. Leggett had a strong performance in the spring game, catching seven passes for 97 yards and one score. It’s always tough for a true freshman to transition into a starting role for the season opener, but Leggett is expected to play plenty of snaps in 2013.
Deon Long, WR, Maryland
Stefon Diggs is already one of the ACC’s top receivers, and Long’s arrival should give quarterback C.J. Brown (or Ricardo Young) another dangerous weapon in the passing attack. Long played at New Mexico in 2010 and transferred to play at Iowa Western in 2011. In one year on the JUCO level, Long dominated the competition, catching 100 passes (most NJCAA history) for 1,625 yards and 25 scores. Long will require an adjustment period after transferring from the junior college ranks, but his presence will help take some of the pressure off of Diggs.
Brandon Mitchell, QB, NC State
As a graduate transfer, Mitchell has a short window of opportunity to make an impact at NC State. In three seasons with Arkansas, the Louisiana native completed 25 of 43 passes for 332 yards and three scores, while rushing for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Mitchell also showcased his athletic ability by playing some snaps at receiver. If you want an idea of the offense coach Dave Doeren and coordinator Matt Canada want to install in Raleigh, take a look at Northern Illinois last season, which featured dual-threat quarterback Jordan Lynch. Mitchell is the best fit for the offense on NC State’s roster, but he also has to overcome having only one set of practices to get familiar with his new team and offense.
Charone Peake, WR, Clemson
With DeAndre Hopkins leaving for the NFL, Clemson is looking for a No. 2 target to pair with Sammy Watkins. And the coaching staff hopes Peake – a former top-100 recruit – is ready to fill that void. The South Carolina native grabbed four receptions as a true freshman in 2011 but increased his totals to 25 catches for 172 yards and two scores last year. With excellent speed and size (6-foot-3), along with two seasons of experience under his belt, Peake’s junior season should be his breakout campaign.
Caleb Peterson, OG, North Carolina
The Tar Heels simply won’t replace Jonathan Cooper’s production at guard this year. However, the offensive line still has pieces to build around, as tackle James Hurst is one of the best in the ACC and center Russell Bodine is a two-year starter. Peterson has big shoes to fill as he tries to replace Cooper, but the Alabama native was regarded as a four-star prospect in the 2012 signing class. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound guard will have a tough introduction to college football with a date against South Carolina in the opener. However, Peterson has the talent to stabilize the guard position and emerge as a strength by the end of the year.
Andre Williams, RB, Boston College
Williams has flashed potential throughout his career and is poised to shine under new coach Steve Addazio. The Pennsylvania native has recorded 1,582 rushing yards and 10 scores in his career but has never topped more than 605 yards in a single season. With Addazio likely to rely more on the run, Boston College returning three starters on the offensive line, and question marks about the depth at running back, Williams could push for 1,000 yards in 2013. And with a lack of standouts returning in the ACC at this position, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Williams make a run at All-ACC honors.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Considering Winston’s preseason buzz has reached meteoric levels, he might be a little too obvious to put on this list. However, the redshirt freshman has the talent to have a breakout year similar to what Texas A&M got from Johnny Manziel last season. Of course, a Heisman Trophy is simply too much to ask from Winston this year, but the Alabama native will be a difference maker for Florida State, especially with one of the ACC’s best supporting casts at his disposal. If Winston lives up to the hype, the Seminoles could match last year’s 12 wins.
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