The ACC is coming off one of its most successful college football seasons that includes Clemson’s national title win and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy. With that in mind, here are several players worth watching this season:
Jessie Bates III, S, Wake Forest
The Buzz: Bates was responsible for two of Wake Forest’s three defensive touchdowns last season after scoring touchdowns of 55 and 39 yards on interceptions. He finished the season with a school-record five interceptions while finishing second among freshmen in the league with 100 tackles. He was one of four Demon Deacons who earned all-conference honors in 2016.
Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State
The Buzz: Francois earned Rookie of the Year honors in the ACC last season after passing for 3,350 yards with 20 touchdowns while guiding Florida State to a 10-3 record – its fifth consecutive double-digit win season. The 3,350 yards was the fifth-best single season performance by a Seminoles quarterback in school history and was the top single-season performance by a freshman last season.
Brandon Harris, QB, North Carolina
The Buzz: Harris could be North Carolina’s replacement for Mitch Trubisky as the LSU transfer gives the Tar Heels much needed experience behind center after starting 25 games during his time with the Tigers. The senior is looking for a fresh start after gaining more than 3,000 total yards of offense with 27 touchdowns during his time in Baton Rouge.
Quadree Henderson, RB, Pittsburgh
The Buzz: Henderson was a triple-threat for the Panthers, earning all-American honors after he finished second in the conference in all-purpose yards (2,083) while becoming the first Pitt player to combine for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards in a season since Tony Dorsett. He led the country in kickoff return touchdowns (three) while combining for more than 1,100 yards in punt and kickoff return yardage.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
The Buzz: It would be hard ignoring the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, who set school records for total offense (5,114 yards) and points responsible (308) while setting a league-record for total touchdowns in a season (51). A quick start in 2017 could make a lot of people forget about his struggles down the stretch in 2016 when the Cardinals lost their final three games.
Derwin James, S, Florida State
The Buzz: One of the best defensive players in the country when healthy, James suffered a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee last September that forced him out of the rest of the season. His return will boost a defense that returns nine other starters from last season and could be an important part of the Seminoles’ hopes of returning to the ACC Championship.
Micah Kiser, LB, Virginia
The Buzz: One of six different defensive players for Virginia that earned all-conference honors last season. Kiser led the ACC in total tackles (134) and was third overall in the nation in tackles per game (11.17) while finishing with 10 tackles for loss. With teammate Quin Blandings, Kiser is expected to be a big part of the Cavaliers’ defensive foundation for the near future.
Harold Landry, DL, Boston College
The Buzz: Landry’s decision to return to Boston College rather than forgo his final year of eligibility was huge get for coach Steve Addazio and his staff. The defensive lineman led the nation in sacks (16.5) and forced fumbles (seven) while finishing second in the ACC in tackles for loss (22), earning all-American honors and cementing him as one of the top defensive linemen in the country.
Dexter Lawrence, DL, Clemson
The Buzz: Lawrence earned all-American honors after teaming up with Christian Wilkins and Carlos Watkins to become one of the most formidable defensive fronts in college football. The freshman led the team in sacks (seven) while registering 79 tackles in 11 starts, earning him ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year honors for his performance.
Mark Walton, RB, Miami
The Buzz: Miami produced a 1,000-yard rusher each of the past three seasons as Walton became the 10th player in school history to crack the mark after rushing for 1,117 yards with 14 rushing touchdowns. The junior will benefit from having an offensive line that returns all five starters from last season and could see a lot of action as the team settles on a new quarterback.