Who are the top contenders for Freshman of the Year in the ACC?
The beauty of college football lies in its unpredictability and volatility.
Roster turnover is largely responsible for the tremendous amount of variability from year to year within the sport. Key graduations, early entries into the NFL Draft, dismissals and a massive influx of tomorrow's stars in the form of bright-eyed freshmen create more personnel turnover in college football than any other major sport in the country.
It's these (relatively) unknown commodities that offer fans a renewed hope of future success. Who are the top freshmen to watch in the ACC this fall?
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
The uber-recruit from Immokalee (Fla.) High redshirted a year ago and is ready to fulfill his lofty recruiting expectations. He’s gained some weight and will be charged with protecting the back end of a defense littered with seniors.
Matthew Thomas, LB, Florida State
After experiencing some speed bumps in the recruiting process, Thomas is finally ready to contribute in Tallahassee. He has freakish ability and is slated to start alongside Terrance Smith. Jimbo Fisher has proven he will ask big things of first-year starters and Thomas is the next in line.
Quin Blanding, S, Virginia
The five-star safety from Virginia Beach (Va.) Bayside is slotted to start the moment he steps onto a college field for the first time. He has veterans to learn from but the 6-foot-4, 210-pound dynamo could be a savior at the back end of the Cavaliers' defense.
Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina
Arkansas State head coach and former UNC assistant Blake Anderson told me last week that Hood is as ready made as any true freshman in the ACC. There is a crowded backfield in Chapel Hill but the 220-pounder might be the most talented of the bunch.
KC McDermott, OL, Miami
The Hurricanes have plenty of holes to fill and one should be plugged by the monster (6-6, 315) in-state blocker. He has been worked at right tackle with the first team and he could be just one of a few first-year blockers who contribute in a big way for Miami.
Ermon Lane | Travis Rudolph, WR, Florida State
There is plenty of space in the offense behind senior Rashad Greene and both Lane (6-3, 205) and Rudolph (6-2, 185) have been exceptional in fall camp. Greene and quarterback Jameis Winston have had glowing things to say about the two tall playmakers.
Wyatt Teller, OL, Virginia Tech
The 6-foot-5, 300-pound redshirt freshman has moved from defensive line to offensive tackle to offensive guard and hasn’t played a down yet. But he looks and acts the part of an interior mauler already. His weight lifting records are a testament to that. He will fight to keep his job but the future is extremely bright for Teller in Blacksburg.
Andrew Brown, DL, Virginia
A turf toe injury resulted in surgery at the beginning of fall camp and that has slowed the expectations for the five-star nose guard. The coaching staff still believes the big 300-pounder will be a major contributor this fall but they will ease their prized freshman back into action.
Chad Thomas, DL, Miami
It’s hard to hide Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio’s excitement about having Thomas on the roster. The local product checks in at 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds with excellent burst and great agility. He is the type of South Florida defender the Canes have been sorely lacking.
Bo Hines, WR, NC State
Dave Doeren’s offense will be much improved in Year Two with Jacoby Brissett under center. Hines was impressive in spring camp after enrolling early and there is plenty of space on the depth chart for a talented pass-catcher like Hines to flourish in 2014.
Quarterbacks to Watch:
Deshaun Watson, Clemson
The talented dual-threat early enrollee needs to stay healthy but should already be entrenched as Cole Stoudt’s backup and the QB of the future.
Mitch Trubisky, North Carolina
Marquise Williams is the starter but Trubisky brings pocket talent that Larry Fedora brought in for a reason. He is the future in Chapel Hill.
Kevin Olsen, Miami
He’s suspended for at least the opener against Louisville but this situation could be so dire that Olsen could get plenty of reps once he’s out of the doghouse. True freshman Brad Kaaya is also getting a look.
Best of the Rest:
Bentley Spain | R.J. Prince, OL, North Carolina
Keith Bryant | Derrick Nnadi, DL, Florida State
Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson
Wayne Gallman | Tyshon Dye, RB, Clemson
Zach Challingsworth | Jester Weah, WR, Pitt
Joseph Yearby, RB, Miami
Kentavius Street, DL, NC State
Chris Griffin, OL, Georgia Tech