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Vic Beasley, Jameis Winston among ACC's biggest surprises

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Rainier Ehrhardt/Associated Press
Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley has nine sacks to lead the nation in that category.

The ACC was expected to have a two-team top tier, and that certainly has been the case. Clemson and Florida State are in the top five of the national polls, and they meet Saturday at Clemson in the ACC's game of the year.

The winner has the inside track to the league's automatic BCS bid, but the loser shouldn't fall out of the top 10 and will remain a viable BCS at-large candidate.

Both have been led by their quarterbacks: senior Tajh Boyd at Clemson and redshirt freshman Jameis Winston at Florida State. Both are legitimate Heisman candidates, and the winning quarterback in Saturday's game will get a huge boost for his "candidacy."

Miami and surprisingly strong Virginia Tech form the league's second tier. Both are led by senior quarterbacks (Miami's Stephen Morris and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas) who have been inconsistent in their careers and this season.

Here's a midseason look at the league's five biggest surprises and disappointments among the players.

Five biggest surprises


Clemson DE Vic Beasley: Beasley (6-foot-2, 235 pounds), a junior, leads the nation with nine sacks and had the clinching touchdown on a fumble return in this past Saturday's win over Boston College. Beasley has great speed off the edge, but he also has developed a bull rush. When a blocker expects a speed rush, a bull rush can be surprisingly effective. Beasley also has 12 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and five pass breakups.

Pitt WR Tyler Boyd: Boyd (6-2, 185), a true freshman, has combined with senior Devin Street to give the Panthers one of the most productive receiving duos in the nation. Boyd was a star high school running back (5,755 career rushing yards) at Clairton (Pa.) High, in the Pittsburgh suburbs. But he was projected as a wide receiver by most recruiting services, and the Panthers signed him to play that position. He has proved to be an immediate playmaker. Boyd has 25 receptions for 445 yards (17.8 yards per catch) and four TDs, and he has three 100-yard games already.

Syracuse DT Jay Bromley: Bromley (6-4, 285), a senior, always has played well against the run, but he has added some pass-rush skills this season. He is fifth in the league with five sacks (he had three in his career going into the season) and has 32 total tackles, seven off the single-season career high he set last season. In a league filled with solid defensive linemen, Bromley has been one of the best.

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Miami LB Denzel Perryman: Perryman (6-0, 240), a junior, doesn't have the preferred measurables, but the guy simply knows how to play football. He is a tough, physical inside 'backer who plays hard. He was second on the team with 64 tackles last season and already has 34 this season. Perryman has a high football IQ, moves well laterally and is a hard hitter.

Florida State QB Jameis Winston: Most observers expected a big season from Winston (6-4, 228), a redshirt freshman. But this good? Granted, the best defense FSU has seen is Maryland's, which ranks 40th in total defense nationally. But Winston's stats still are impressive: 288.2 passing yards per game, 17 TD passes, two interceptions, 73.2 completion percentage, two rushing touchdowns. There is Heisman talk, and it will intensify if he leads FSU to a win at Clemson on Saturday. He has a strong arm and throws an eminently catchable ball.

Five biggest disappointments


Georgia Tech DE Jeremiah Attaochu: He hasn't played poorly; he just hasn't made as big an impact as expected at his new position. Attaochu (6-3, 242), a senior, was moved from outside linebacker to end after Tech changed from a 3-4 to a 4-3 set. He had 10 sacks in 2012 but has just two this fall, and he seems to get engulfed by opposing linemen far more often than he did last season. His tackles for loss totals are way down, too, from 12 last season to 3.5. And as for his overall productivity: He had 69 tackles last season but has just 15 this season.

Duke CB Ross Cockrell: Cockrell (6-0, 180) has started every game since the beginning of the 2010 season but has struggled this fall. He was seen as a likely third-day pick in the 2014 draft, but that may be in jeopardy now. He remains solid in run support, but he has been burned in coverage more than expected this season.

Miami OT Seantrel Henderson: It seems obvious that Henderson (6-8, 345), a senior, never is going to live up to his high school hype. He was a consensus top-five player nationally out of high school in the Minneapolis area in 2010, but despite immense physical talent, he just hasn't played consistently at Miami. He was suspended for Miami's most recent game, and even when he has been in the lineup, he hasn't stood out like he should. His lack of focus and work ethic continue to be issues.

North Carolina QB Bryn Renner: Big numbers were expected this season from Renner (6-3, 225), a senior. He threw for 3,356 yards, 28 TDs and seven TDs, and completed 65.4 percent of his passes last season, his first in coach Larry Fedora's offense. But he has struggled this fall with his accuracy, completing 59.9 percent of his passing attempts, and he has seven TDs and three picks. The Heels (1-4) have been perhaps the ACC's biggest disappointment, and the struggling passing attack has been a big reason.

Florida State RB James Wilder Jr.: Wilder (6-2, 229), a junior, has the needed physical tools but seems to lack the instincts necessary to be a top-flight runner. He is third on the team with 214 yards -- and one of the guys ahead of him was moved from safety after the season started. He was expected to share carries with Devonta Freeman, but Wilder's lack of shiftiness continues to hamper him. He was a stud high school linebacker, and you wonder what he could've done at that position in college.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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