|Florida State running back Karlos Williams will play a key role in the Seminoles' offense in 2014.|
We're a long way from the start of the 2014 season (not that we're counting, but it's 79 days away), but that doesn't mean we can't start going in-depth about what we think will happen this fall.
To that end, we're going to pick 10 players who will go from well-known in their leagues (actually, in some cases, it might even be little-known in their leagues) to well-known nationally this season -- the top 10 breakout players in each conference, as it were.
Today, we look at the ACC's top 10 breakout candidates -- 10 players everyone will know about when November rolls around. We'll look at the Big Ten on Tuesday.
10. WR Quinshad Davis, North CarolinaParticulars: 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, junior.
Buzz: He slumped a bit last season after a tremendous campaign as a true freshman in 2012 (his catch total dropped from 61 to 48, though he did double his TD total from five in 2012 to 10 last season). Look for him to become more consistent this fall; he should catch 75-plus passes this season and vie for all-league honors. He doesn't have blazing speed, but he is a long-strider who does a good job using his big body to his advantage. His size makes him an interesting NFL prospect.
9. DE Eli Harold, VirginiaParticulars: 6-4, 235, junior.
Buzz: He was a consensus national top-100 prospect out of high school in Virginia Beach, Va., in the 2012 recruiting class and has played well in each of his two seasons. He had seven tackles for loss and two sacks as a true freshman, then increased those totals to 15 and 8.5, respectively, last season. Harold is a good athlete who is more advanced as a pass rusher than he is against the run; he needs to gain weight and add bulk. But he should hit double-digits in sacks this fall in coordinator Jon Tenuta's aggressive scheme, and his pass-rush ability means he could be a first-team all-league pick.
8. LB Terrance Smith, Florida StateParticulars: 6-4, 228, junior.
Buzz: Because of his size, Smith doesn't necessarily look like a middle linebacker, but he did a good job in the middle last season in his first year as a starter. He was a backup outside 'backer as a redshirt freshman in 2012, then quickly became a vital part of a shutdown defense last season, when he became the starting middle 'backer in Game 5. He runs well laterally and is solid in coverage. He still is learning the nuances of playing middle linebacker, but his athleticism, sheer speed and versatility are big selling points -- and mean he will appeal to NFL scouts and all-conference voters.
7. WR Mike Williams, ClemsonParticulars: 6-3, 205, sophomore.
Buzz: Clemson lost two of its three starting receivers ( Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant), and Williams certainly has the talent to become Clemson's go-to receiver. He had 20 receptions and three TD catches as a true freshman last season, and now must prove he has the focus and consistency to be the No. 1 guy. Williams is in line for a big season, which means he would go into the 2015 season as one of the nation's best receivers.
6. S Jeremy Cash, DukeParticulars: 6-2, 210, junior.
Buzz: Duke plays a 4-2-5 set, and Cash is the key safety for the Blue Devils. He also is part of a new breed of Duke players -- one whom other teams coveted out of high school. Indeed, Cash -- who was an all-state player at Plantation High, in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale -- signed with Ohio State and played there as a true freshman in 2011. He transferred to Duke and hit the field with the Blue Devils for the first time last fall, when he had a huge season: 121 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles. Though he is not a blazer, he is fluid and has excellent size and instincts; he also is a big hitter. He was a first-team All-ACC pick last season and could garner some All-America attention this fall.
5. OLB Lorenzo Mauldin, LouisvilleParticulars: 6-4, 243, senior.
Buzz: Mauldin quietly had 9.5 sacks last season; we say quietly because eventual first-round pick Marcus Smith was busy racking up 14.5, which was second-most in the nation. Smith is gone now, meaning it's Mauldin's turn in the spotlight. That turn will come with a position change. The Cardinals are moving to a 3-4 set this season, so Mauldin's 4-3 end position basically has disappeared and he now is a 3-4 outside 'backer. Mauldin's specialty will be his pass rush. But if he proves he can handle the responsibility of playing outside linebacker in the 3-4, it would enhance his draft stock.
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4. OT Sean Hickey, SyracuseParticulars: 6-5, 300, senior.
Buzz: He had a chance to turn pro after last season but wisely stuck around, which means he has a chance to be one of the nation's top five offensive tackles this fall. That also means he is a potential first-round pick in 2015. Hickey didn't play at all because of an injury as a redshirt freshman in 2011, then started all 13 games at right tackle in 2012. He moved to left tackle last fall and played at a high level; he should do so again this fall. Hickey is both athletic and strong (he can bench press 515 pounds, and has done 41 reps at 225 pounds), and should be a first-team All-ACC pick.
3. G Laken Tomlinson, DukeParticulars: 6-3, 320, senior.
Buzz: When you talk about a "star guard" at Duke, you're always referring to a Blue Devils basketball player. Not this year, not with this guy. Tomlinson, a Jamaican native who played high school ball in the Chicago area, was a recruiting coup for the Blue Devils in the 2010 recruiting class, and he has lived up to the billing. He redshirted in 2010, and this will be his fourth season as a starter. Maybe he'll finally receive some national acclaim. He is the second-best guard in the ACC, behind FSU's Tre Jackson, but Tomlinson also might be the second-best guard in the nation. He should contend for All-America honors and almost certainly will hear his name called relatively early in the 2015 draft.
2. CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia TechParticulars: 5-11, 195, sophomore.
Buzz: He made 12 starts last season and was the second-best freshman cornerback in the nation, behind Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III. Fuller was overshadowed on his own team last season by older brother Kyle Fuller, who went 14th overall in the 2014 draft, to the Chicago Bears, and was the second corner selected. This fall, Kendall will get his rightful share of the attention. He led the Hokies with six picks and 11 pass breakups. His brother was one of the nation's top corners last season; this fall, Kendall will take over that role.
1. RB Karlos Williams, Florida StateParticulars: 6-1, 219, senior.
Buzz: Williams was a national top-10 prospect as a safety in the 2011 recruiting class out of high school near Orlando. He played that position in his two first seasons with the Seminoles, but lacked the necessary instincts to start, so he was moved to tailback early in the 2013 season. Good move. He was second on the team in rushing last season and should be a 1,000-yard back this fall. He runs with a mean streak and possesses breakaway speed. He will play a huge role on what again should be a high-powered offense; with his presumed production will come a ton of attention, too.
Mike Huguenin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.