Despite the general on-field results being inconsistent at best, there’s no question that Atlantic Coast Conference football programs sign great individual talent across the board.
Virginia running back Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell could have a Duke Johnson/C.J. Spiller-type impact on the ACC this season.
The league was second only to the Southeastern Conference this year in terms of number of NFL Draft picks produced and annually showcases some of the best players in college football. Heading into the 2013 season, here are five freshmen who could impact the league greatly in their debut season and quickly become part of the national conversation on great players.
1- Taquan Mizzell, RB, Virginia- Mizzell was one of the fastest running backs in the 2013 class out of Bayside High in Virginia Beach and was the No. 60 overall prospect in the 2013 recruiting industry-generated 247Composite rankings. Mizzell, who goes by the nickname “Smoke”, gives the Cavaliers a homerun threat on offense and could have a similar impact to what Duke Johnson had at Miami in 2012 or C.J. Spiller had at Clemson in 2006. He’s expected to team with Kevin Parks to provide a one-two punch in the running game for new offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild in Charlottesville. He will be needed right away as the Wahoos open with back-to-back games against BYU and Oregon to start the season.
2- MacKensie Alexander, CB, Clemson- Alexander, a 247Composite five-star prospect for 2013 out of Immokalee (Fla.), was a huge recruiting win for the Tigers on national signing day and given his skill set and confidence, it would not be a surprise to see him push veterans like Bashaud Breeland for a starting spot on the Clemson in defense. In fact, it would be a little bit of a surprise if at some point, Alexander didn’t trot out as a starter provided he learns the defensive scheme quickly. He’s been honing his coverage skills this summer guarding All-American Sammy Watkins during voluntary summer workouts, so he’s gotten some good practice. Clemson opens against Georgia on Aug. 31 and the Bulldogs should have one of the best offenses in college football this coming season, so the early need for talent upgrades across the defense is there.
3- Stacy Coley, WR, Miami (Fla.)- There was talk all recruiting cycle about Coley, the No. 4 receiver prospect in the 2013 class according to 247Sports, would be a longshot to qualify academically. Well lo and behold, he enrolled at Miami on June 25. His talent has never been in question as some felt, discounting the noise in the system, that he was the most talented receiver prospect in the country in the last class. He’s got the skill level to move quickly up the two-deep and becoming a starter by the Aug. 30 opener against Florida Atlantic. Miami has a huge home game with Florida the following weekend, which could be an opportunity for Coley to showcase his skills.
4- Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh- The Panthers offense needs playmakers and the passing game certainly could use a second strong receiving option in addition to the talented Devin Street. The 6-foot-2, 180-pound Boyd, who considered flipping to Tennessee near signing day, was impressive at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in January and some observers in Western Pennsylvania felt he was a better, more polished high school wide receiver than five-star Alabama signee Robert Foster. Pitt plays host to Florida State on Labor Day evening, the first ACC game for the program, so given the daunting task of facing the Seminoles it isn’t going to be a surprise to see Boyd in the lineup if he develops quickly in preseason practice.
5- T.J. Logan, RB, North Carolina- Logan is a perfect fit for the Tar Heels’ hurry-up offense and was one of the most prolific running backs in recent memory in the state of North Carolina at Northern Guilford High. He rushed for 510 yards in a state title game and was a standout on the track. UNC has to replace Gio Bernard (left early for the NFL) and A.J. Blue figures to be the power back. Romar Morris, another speedy running back, is right behind Blue, but Logan could ascend the depth chart quickly or be used in a utility role in the return game, slot and more. North Carolina opens the season Aug. 29 at South Carolina and then has an always-critical ACC Coastal showdown with Georgia Tech on Sept. 21, the third game of the season. Logan’s playmaking ability should come in handy.
As is often the case just prior to the start of preseason practice for high school and college programs, there is expected to be a flurry of verbal commitments as players and coaches want to get inevitable pledges nailed down before the start of the season.
Notre Dame is still in the thick of things to land five-star Brooklyn defensive tackle Thomas Holley, but Ohio State and Penn State are legitimate factors.
This is probably the time of year that an early signing period/day would take place in college football, if the NCAA institutes one. It makes all the sense in the world.
-One of the things to watch in the ACC this coming season is the potential Vad Lee show at Georgia Tech. Lee was a highly-regarded quarterback prospect coming out of Hillside High in Durham, N.C., and showed flashes of his true dual-threat ability (best passer Paul Johnson has had at Georgia Tech) last season, piling up 281 total yards in a 68-50 win against UNC. Though he was part of the Class of 2011, he could be a “new” name on the conference and even national scene this recruiting cycle. Tech recruiting coordinator Andy McCollum, one of the top recruiters in the league, landed him in the 2011 cycle.
-Notre Dame will have to hold off a charge from Ohio State and the proximity of Penn State if it wants to land five-star defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Abraham Lincoln). Most believe it’s now a clear three-team race with the Irish, Buckeyes and Nittany Lions.
-Three-star athlete Greg Stroman (Manassas, Va./Stonewall Jackson) is aiming for an Aug. 1 decision, likely between Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Hokies have made things interesting for sure, but Stroman had a good visit to Charlottesville earlier this week and Crystal Ball says Cavaliers at 75 percent.
-The Hokies also are awaiting a decision next Monday from rising three-star offensive tackle Brady Taylor (Columbus, Ohio/Bishop Ready). The problem for Virginia Tech? The other primary challenger is Kentucky. The Wildcats, led by Youngstown, Ohio, native and ace recruiter Vince Marrow, have eight verbal commits from the Buckeye State so far this cycle. What gives the Hokies hope- Taylor and first-year offensive line coach Jeff Grimes have developed an excellent relationship.
-Louisville has done a good job crossing the northern border into Ohio this cycle as well. The Cardinals have seven verbal commitments from the Buckeye State this cycle, including three-star defensive end Terry Ramsey (Clayton, Ohio/Northmont) jumping in this past weekend.
-It’s been known for some time that Miami assistant (and former linebacker) Michael Barrow was an excellent recruiter, but he’s piling up impressive numbers so far this cycle as the Canes currently have the No. 5 class in the country for 2014. Barrow currently has nine verbal commits to his credit and is primary recruiter for seven of them. He has shot up to No. 14 nationally in the 247Sports recruiter rankings for this cycle.
The buzz around Clemson is that it’s only a matter of time before the Tigers land a commitment from three-star offensive guard prospect Nolan Kelleher (Mount Pleasant, S.C./Wando) and Crystal Ball agrees. ...One scout we spoke with is really high on Class of 2015 defensive tackle Chance Hall (Roanoke, Va./Northside) after evaluating his film. Virginia and Maryland both have offered the 6-foot-4, 270-pounder. ...N.C. State has worked its way into the discussion for four-star all-purpose back Derrell Scott (Havelock, N.C.), but South Carolina and Florida State remain the teams to beat at present. ...Class of 2015 Top247 athlete Jalen Christian (Damascus, Md.) will visit Maryland unofficially on Friday. ...Safety Mattrell McGraw (New Orleans, La./John Curtis) says he will visit Florida State unofficially this weekend. The Seminoles, Oregon and UCLA are the three programs that are primarily in the mix. The Ducks are the overwhelming favorite according to Crystal Ball, but the Noles have had a way of late of pulling some surprises when they get prospects on campus. ...Boston College defensive coordinator Don Brown has been making some noise on the recruiting trail this cycle. The Spencer, Mass., native has eight verbal commits to his credit (four as the primary recruiter) and is currently ranked No. 13 in the league in the 247Sports recruiter rankings. ...Duke is one of (along with Florida State, Wisconsin and Stanford) the four finalists for defensive end Kurt Holuba (Oradell, N.J./Bergen Catholic) and is still the favorite to land quarterback Nico Pierre (Miami, Fla./Coral Reef). ...Wake Forest is battling Virginia Tech for Deacons legacy wide receiver Austin Proehl (Charlotte, N.C./Providence). Wake looked like a safe pick until the Hokies, who love his elite route running skills, offered at camp. Proehl is the son of former Wake Forest and NFL wide receiver Ricky Proehl.