An 1,100-yard rusher in 2015, Pittsburgh needs Qadree Ollison to lead the way on the ground this fall
It is true that Clemson won the national title in large part because of their stars. Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams and Ben Boulware were big producers as well as being leaders for the Tigers.
But it is very rare for a player to arrive at a school as a star and live up to the hype immediately. More often there is a development period before these players become household names.
Here are two wild card players from each ACC program that could blossom in 2017 and play a large part in determining their team's success.
Offense: Darius Wade, Quarterback
It is the position where Boston College has struggled the most over the past few years. Wade will be challenged by redshirt freshman Anthony Brown, but the junior will probably start and be the key to improving the Eagles’ offense.
Defense: Lukas Dennis, Defensive Back
A junior from Everett, Mass., Dennis is capable of playing multiple positions in the secondary. That alone makes him a valuable commodity, but a strong spring put him in position to be a starter at safety when the season opens.
Offense: Hunter Johnson, Quarterback
The true freshman will not enter camp as the starter, but he will get an opportunity to win the job. The highest rated prep quarterback on the Clemson roster, Johnson better make hay right away with Trevor Lawrence – a quarterback with even more high school hype – coming in next year.
Defense: Trayvon Mullen, Cornerback
Mullen is long and athletic, possessing the physical attributes needed at his position. With Cordrea Tankersley at the next level, Mullen has a chance to be the next great Clemson cornerback.
Offense: George Campbell, Wide Receiver
Campbell came to Florida State as a five-star recruit but has done little so far, mostly due to injuries. He’s an athletic, big-bodied receiver that can change the complexion of the Seminoles’ offense if he can stay on the field.
Defense: Brian Burns, Defensive End
The Noles need to replace DeMarcus Walker at defensive end and the sophomore from Fort Lauderdale could be that guy. He needs to add some size and strength in order to hold up against the run, but he has sensational pass-rushing skills.
Offense: Seth Dawkins, Wide Receiver
Much of the talent that surrounded quarterback Lamar Jackson in 2016 is no longer around and the Heisman winner needs some playmakers to emerge. One of those guys is Dawkins, a sophomore that had a big spring.
Defense: Trevon Young, Linebacker
Young had 8.5 sacks as a junior but missed all of 2016 following a hip injury in the 2015 Music City Bowl. If Young returns to form, he is a difference-maker for the Cardinals’ defense.
Offense: Nyheim Hines, Running Back
Hines is an established player as both a receiver and a returner. But he’s moving to running back this year and is the most electric of the options the Wolfpack have at that position.
Defense: Nick McCloud, Cornerback
NC State is strong in the front seven but there are questions about the back end. Sophomore McCloud will be given the first chance to lock down an open corner spot.
Offense: Airon Servais, Offensive Lineman
The first order of business for the Cuse this year is to keep quarterback Eric Dungey healthy. The Green Bay native that redshirted last year can play all along the front though he will probably line up at guard.
Defense: McKinley Williams, Defensive Tackle
The sophomore has put on the weight he needed to compete in the middle of the Orange defensive line. Williams had 14 tackles and a sack last season, numbers that should spike this fall.
Offense: Cortez Lewis, Wide Receiver
The Demon Deacons hope that the junior wide receiver can provide a big-play threat for their combo of quarterbacks. If Lewis can take a step forward, he will form a nice receiving trio with slot man Tabari Hines and tight end Cam Serigne.
Defense: Jaboree Williams, Linebacker
It is unlikely that any one player will step up and completely fill the void left by Marquel Lee. But Williams has the most ability on the second level and will be asked to improve on his 36-tackle, two-sack performance of 2016.
Offense: Evan Lisle, Offensive Tackle
Lisle played sparingly during his time at Ohio State. Now at Duke, the 6-foot-7, 308-pounder will probably be the starting right guard. Duke has some interesting skill weapons back, including quarterback Daniel Jones. If Lisle helps shore up the offensive line, head coach David Cutcliffe could have a pretty good offense.
Defense: Dylan Singleton, Safety
The sophomore came in as a consensus four-star prospect, choosing the Blue Devils over schools like Georgia, Ohio State, Auburn and Nebraska. With vacancies in the secondary, Singleton’s playing time should increase substantially.
Offense: Clinton Lynch, Running Back
With Dedrick Mills pounding the middle, big plays can be had to the outside. That’s where Lynch comes in. Lynch will get more chances this season after scoring eight touchdowns and averaging more than 17 yards on his 53 touches in 2016.
Defense: Anree Saint-Amour, Defensive End
Saint-Amour had just 16 tackles last fall. But four of those were sacks, showing that he has the ability to cause havoc. The Jackets had just 18 sacks as a team and 7.5 of those left when Patrick Gamble graduated, putting more pressure on Saint-Amour to produce this season.
Offense: N’Kosi Perry, Quarterback
Most expect Malik Rosier to be the starting quarterback for the season opener. But there’s a lot of buzz surrounding Perry, an exciting dual-threat option who impressed in spring drills.
Defense: Dee Delaney, Cornerback
An under-the-radar prospect out of high school, Delaney starred at The Citadel, where he was a two-time All-American. Following graduation, the Seabrook, S.C., product transferred to Miami. It will be interesting to see how this FCS standout transitions to the ACC.
Offense: Brandon Harris, Quarterback
Harris may be the ultimate wild card. He showed flashes every so often at LSU. But the talent never translated on a consistent level. He’s now at UNC, a team in desperate need of quality quarterback play with Mitchell Trubisky getting ready to play on Sundays.
Defense: Aaron Crawford, Defensive Tackle
Stopping the run has been a nightmare for the Heels in recent seasons. The 6-foot-1, 310-pound Crawford made an impact as a redshirt freshman in 2016. But with Nazair Jones gone, Crawford will have to do even more this year.
Offense: Qadree Ollison, Running Back
With James Conner out in 2015, freshman Ollison ran for 1,121 yards. Last year, with Conner back, Ollison had just 127 yards on the ground. It’s once again his job and head coach Pat Narduzzi would love to see the 2015 Ollison return.
Defense: Dwayne Hendrix, Defensive End
A huge recruit coming out of O’Fallon, Ill., Hendrix never thrived at Tennessee. He gets a new chance at Pitt and he has big shoes to fill with Ejuan Price finally gone after six years.
Offense: Jake Fieler, Center
UVA’s offense was terrible last fall and the offensive line was a major part of the problem. The Cavs added three grad transfers, but for there to be significant improvement, Fieler must play well. With a lot of moving parts around him, the junior locked down a starting spot with a good spring.
Defense: Jordan Mack, Linebacker
Mack was a defensive back in high school that grew into a linebacker at UVA. Micah Kiser will get all sorts of attention this season, opening lanes for Mack to make plays.
Offense: Caleb Farley, Wide Receiver
An early enrollee, Farley was supposed to be a defensive back for the Hokies. By the end of spring ball, however, he was at wide receiver and turned many heads with his play. Receiver is a position where a freshman can contribute right away and receiver is an area where the Hokies need help.
Defense: Tim Settle, Defensive Tackle
The 6-foot-3, 328-pounder got his feet wet last season as a freshman and is now ready to make a bigger impact. Settle – a four-star prospect coming out of high school – will team with Ricky Walker in an attempt to replace the production of Woody Baron and Nigel Williams inside for the Hokies.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.