No. 5 Louisville DE/LB Devonte Fields
Fields was the Big12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2012 after posting 18.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks as a freshman. Since then he’s played in just three games due to injury and suspension. He transferred to Louisville this offseason and will play for the Cardinals in 2015.
There is a lot of risk with Fields, and questions about whether or not he can return to his 2012 form, but the talent is there. He will also play in a system that relies heavily on production from his position so he will have every opportunity to make an impact.
No. 4 Miami QB Brad Kaaya
Kaaya had a very good freshman year in 2014 and will look to keep that going into this season. He threw for 3,198 yards while averaging 8.46 yards per attempt and had 26 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. If Miami wants to get back to at least competing for a ACC Coastal division title, which the Hurricanes have never won since joining the ACC a decade ago, they will need Kaaya to do it.
He will have to deal with the loss of his top 3 receiving targets from a year ago in Phillip Dorsett, Clive Walford, and Duke Johnson. Those three combined for 1,968 yards and 20 touchdowns last season. The returning group does have talent though, and it will be interesting to see just how much Kaaya develops in his sophomore year.
No. 3 Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas
Florida State will have the tough task of playing Georgia Tech on the road this season, and a major reason for that is the play of Justin Thomas. Thomas was excellent last season throwing for 1,719 yards and 18 touchdowns with just 6 interceptions. He also ran for 1086 yards, 78 yards more than Dalvin Cook last season, and had 8 rushing touchdowns.
The triple option is already difficult enough to stop without a legitimate passing threat like Thomas. If they get rolling it’s one of the hardest offenses to stop.
No. 2 Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves
Hargreaves is one of the top cornerbacks in the country. He will likely be a Top-5 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. He was a consensus first-team All-American in 2014 and is a preseason first team All-American on nearly every ballot this season. He finished last year with 50 tackles, 13 pass breakups, and 3 interceptions.
The lack of production on offense has been a problem for the Gators over the last couple seasons, which has put a lot of pressure on their defense. Hargreaves has stood up under that pressure and can lock down any receiver in the country.
No. 1 Clemson QB Deshaun Watson
Clemson’s Deshaun Watson may be the next big quarterback in college football if he can stay healthy. He was very good in the five games where he was able to play meaningful minutes, including the game against Florida State. He threw for 1,466 yards with 10.9 yards per attempt and a 67.9 completion percentage. He threw 14 touchdowns with just 2 interceptions.
This year he comes in as the unquestioned starter and will look to improve upon those numbers with a wide receiver unit that is brimming with young talent. Clemson will have every opportunity to make a run at the ACC this year getting both Florida State and Georgia Tech at home. If they do, Watson will be the main reason why.