08/19/10 — OPINION: ACC football players to watch

View Archive

OPINION: ACC football players to watch

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on August 19, 2010 2:23 PM

While its Southeastern Conference neighbors continue to win national championships and dominate recruiting, the Atlantic Coast Conference manages to fly relatively under the college football radar.

The SEC has won six of the past 12 national championships, including the last four in a row. The ACC hasn't won a national title since Florida State defeated Virginia Tech in 1999. The conference hasn't had a team play for a championship since the Seminoles lost to Oklahoma in 2000.

SEC schools have captured two of the past three Heisman Trophys while the ACC hasn't had a Heisman winner since Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke in 2000.

Much like the conference as a whole, the ACC has several players not receiving much preseason recognition nationally that are worth keeping an eye on this season.

* Tyrod Taylor, QB, Virginia Tech: The Hokies replace eight starters on defense and the emphasis early will be on Taylor and the offense. The senior quarterback began to display consistency as a passer last season. He threw for 2,311 yards and 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions.

Taylor went without an interception in nine of the Hokies' 13 games in 2009. He was picked off only twice in Virginia Tech's final six games, five of which were victories. Taylor's elusiveness in the pocket and ability to extend plays with his feet presents a nightmare for defenses.

With a potent 1-2 rushing attack of Ryan Williams and Darren Evans and a veteran group of receivers, Taylor is poised to have a breakout year.

* Christian Ponder, QB, Florida State: Florida State returns almost 90 percent of its offense from a year ago, including Ponder, a 2,700-yard passer in 2009. Ponder completed nearly 70 percent of his passes last season before separating his shoulder at Clemson and missing the rest of the season. He eclipsed the 250-yard mark in eight of those nine contests including four 300-plus yard games.

Florida State's entire offensive line returns to protect Ponder along with experienced talent in the backfield and at wide receiver.

* Robert Quinn, DE, North Carolina: Quinn recorded 19 tackles for loss and 11 sacks last season as a sophomore. The Tar Heels have speed and depth across the board defensively. Opponents won't be able to focus solely on Quinn, which increases his chances for a monster year.

* Russell Wilson, QB, N.C. State: Wilson's 31 touchdown passes a year ago led the ACC and were the fourth-most in the nation. He compiled 3,287 yards of total offense -- the third-highest, single-season output in school history.

After throwing one interception in 2008, Wilson was picked off 11 times last season. N.C. State lost six of its final eight games in 2009 and missed out on a bowl invite. Wilson needs to cut down on his turnovers if the Wolfpack hope to go bowling.

* Mark Herzlich, LB, Boston College: Herzlich missed the entire 2009 season as he battled a rare form of bone cancer. He earned ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2008 after recording 110 tackles and six interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.

Boston College was picked by many to contend with Florida State for the ACC's Atlantic Division crown. The Eagles need to look no further than Herzlich, a walking example of courage, as a source of inspiration.