BRADENTON, Fla. -- In the 2015 class, IMG Academy had 12 prospects sign with FBS programs, including eight spread over four of the Power 5 conferences. That was a mere warmup compared to the Class of 2016.

The junior class at IMG Academy features a whopping eight prospects in the ESPN Junior 300, headlined by No. 2 Shavar Manuel and No. 3 and Florida State quarterback commit Malik Henry, along with No. 19 Saivion Smith and Florida State commit Isaac Nauta. Add in cornerback Khalil Ladler, outside linebacker Rahshaun Smith, No. 128 and Clemson wide receiver verbal Tavares Chase and Ohio State pledge Tyler Gerald and the quickly growing football program is officially among the nation's elite.

On Monday, RecruitingNation spent a few hours on campus to get the latest.

1. The West Virginia Legislature is considering naming a Marion County highway for local-boy-made-good Nick Saban. Fear not -- the legislature has taken care of the state's own before venturing to Alabama. Three former Mountaineer coaches who are in the College Football Hall of Fame -- Ira Errett Rogers, Greasy Neale and Don Nehlen -- have been so honored. No Marshall coaches have a road named for them, although Pro Football Hall of Famer Frank "Gunner" Gatski, a Thundering Herd player, does. Saban's road wouldn't be far from Mary Lou Retton Drive in Fairmont, which is also in Marion County.

2. As DraftWorld descends on Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, there's something that Florida State all-everything wide receiver Rashad Greene said at the Rose Bowl that has stuck with me. "I'm not the biggest guy (6-0, 175), but at the end of the day, size is not what matters," Greene said. "... Right now that seems like what the NFL is more interested in is the look part, having the big guys. You know, I feel like they have their reasons. The NFL is definitely a red zone game, and you need big bodies like that. But I have my strong points that can be very dangerous."

3. The schools that begin spring practice in February have different reasons for doing so. Several start early, take two or three weeks off, and finish with two weeks in April. At Stanford, it has to do with the quarter system. At USC, it's to provide rest to a roster depleted by NCAA scholarship reductions. Curtis Johnson, the head coach at Tulane, provided a couple of more reasons as the Green Wave began practice Wednesday: the earlier the start, the more time for players to focus on end-of-the-semester academics. It also leaves more time for the injured to heal and the healthy to get stronger.
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- IMG Academy will undoubtedly have one of the most talented football teams in the country in 2015, including defensive end Shavar Manuel. The nation's No. 2-ranked prospect in the 2016 ESPN Junior 300 has more than 40 scholarship offers to date, including the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Miami (Fla.).

On Monday, the 6-foot-4, 275-pound former Tampa Blake High star provided RecruitingNation with the latest on his recruitment.


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Is February the new March?

Perhaps it is in the ACC.

Four league teams have opted to open spring football practice this month, more than any other Power 5 conference. That number is double what it was a year ago, when Duke and Boston College opted to start in February.

Miami and Syracuse decided to join them this year. The Hurricanes opened Tuesday while Syracuse made the most dramatic change, moving its first spring practice up three weeks. The Orange open Sunday thanks in large part to their newly completed indoor facility.

[+] EnlargeSteve Addazio
John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Getty ImagesSteve Addazio and Boston College are enjoying the benefits of starting spring practice earlier.
Why the shift? For one, it helps teams get a jump on their evaluations. It also allows for injured players a little longer time to heal before the season while lengthening the offseason strength and conditioning program.

Duke coach David Cutcliffe shifted to an early February spring practice start date last year, hoping to capitalize on momentum from its bowl performance. It worked out so well for his team that he has no plans to go back.

Boston College starts Feb. 25 with one practice, then resumes in March after spring break, the same schedule coach Steve Addazio used last year. Addazio wanted to practice a few more days in February this year, but could not alter the schedule after he had to make several coaching hires this month.

Still, the one-day February practice is beneficial because it builds in more time spent working on the team.

“The reason I love it is because I want to have as much time post-spring until the start of the season so if you get an injury, you can get a guy back,” Addazio said. “My whole thing is I want to get spring ball in, I want to see where our team is and really figure out what we’re all about.”

Then there are the recruiting considerations, also a big factor in the earlier start dates.

“Our biggest recruiting time is then,” Addazio said. “We get our recruits to come through during practice, and I love it, they get here and we spend a lot of time with them, that’s where we build our bonds. That’s the early bite that we get, and that’s critical to our recruiting. The earlier our spring practice is, the faster we get a bite into our players.”

Earlier spring practices also allow teams to figure out what positions they need to target on the recruiting trail earlier.

“In years past, we were trying to evaluate our spring practice and our depth chart and recruit at the same time,” Syracuse coach Scott Shafer said. “Now, we’re going to be able to say, ‘Let’s take the first week after spring ball, reevaluate everything we did during the spring, what was good, what wasn’t as good as we needed it to be and then close that chapter and jump full steam ahead into the recruiting process,’ which will help us be a little bit more on targets with who we need to go after. That is another area that’s going to be helpful in our process.”

More teams might follow suit in the near future. Second-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson also moved spring practice up three weeks to March 3 now that he is firmly in place with the Demon Deacons and not scrambling around in the first few months of the job.

Clawson said he would consider moving practice into late February next year once the new indoor practice facility is completed.

“When we had our spring game last year the third week in April, our coaches weren’t on the road until early May, and so other coaches in our division who had earlier spring football were out recruiting two weeks before we were, and in a day and age in which kids are committing earlier and earlier and changing their mind later and later, it was a recruiting disadvantage for us to not get out,” Clawson said. “We’d be out evaluating a kid and another school had been there twice before we even saw him.”

For staffs without much coaching turnover, the advantages are there. Makes spring football take on a slightly different meaning.

Spring start dates across the ACC

Duke, Miami already started
Feb. 22: Syracuse
Feb. 25: Boston College
March 1: North Carolina, NC State
March 2: Clemson
March 3: Wake Forest
March 15: Pittsburgh
March 17: Virginia
March 23: Georgia Tech
March 24: Virginia Tech, Louisville
TBA: Florida State

ACC morning links

February, 18, 2015
Feb 18
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This may be the offseason, but nobody is off in college football.

As proof, schools have taken to social media to show us exactly what their players are up to.

Clemson posted a video on its Instagram account showing a 5:30 a.m. workout.

#ALLIN #Clemson

A video posted by Clemson Football (@clemsonfb) on



At North Carolina, Blue Dawn is back -- the catchy phrase given to early conditioning workouts under Larry Fedora.



Wake Forest and Syracuse had their players up before dark, too. Syracuse even tagged its tweets #6AM.



Meanwhile, Pitt offensive line coach John Peterson reminded everybody via Twitter that players were set to begin their mat drills early Wednesday morning.

Of course, a few teams already have opened spring practice. Miami became the latest Tuesday. Though the practice was closed, quarterback Brad Kaaya told The Miami Herald in an interview last week that his main goal is to make sure he is leading a united team. There are now signs in the Miami locker room that read, "Cliques Kill."

Though nobody inside Miami has gone into much detail about team chemistry last season, dealing with a fractured locker room may help explain some of the issues the Hurricanes encountered toward the end of the season. It is not too difficult to read between the lines in the Kaaya comments to understand the team was splintered. This quote says it all: “You can’t have guys being outliers and kind of keeping to themselves or saying things under their breath. ... I feel like at times last year it was an offense and defense playing against our opponent, as opposed to the Miami Hurricanes playing against them."

Miami, it seems, has more than X's and O's to figure out.

Elsewhere across the ACC:

Spring reset: ACC quarterback

February, 17, 2015
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This could be the year of the quarterback in the ACC with starters returning at the majority of schools across the league.

But there are some programs that will have a bit of intrigue at the quarterback spot this spring. Here is a quick spring reset at where the signal-callers stand at each ACC school.

The incumbents
The skinny: These six are the unquestioned starters at their respective schools. Even Lambert, marking the first time in five springs Virginia has a set quarterback headed into the spring. Though Matt Johns is sure to get a look, Lambert is expected to start the season if healthy. Same goes for the other five, who appear to have a stronghold on their respective starting jobs.

[+] EnlargeDeshaun Watson
AP Photo/Rainier EhrhardtThe backup quarterback position is key to watch during Clemson's spring practices as Deshaun Watson sits out to rehab his injured knee.
The injured incumbent
The skinny: With Watson out during spring practice while he rehabs a knee injury, true freshmen Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel will get reps with Nick Schuessler as they compete to become the backup to Watson. Schuessler, a former walk-on, was the No. 3 quarterback last season. Bryant and Tucker enrolled early and are in for spring, great news for a program that has faced depth issues at the position since last fall. The backup job is an important one at Clemson, with Watson coming off a major knee injury. Whomever wins the backup job could be pressed into action early.

The returning starters*
The skinny: Why an asterisk? There is a chance some of these players end up losing their starting job if the competition is fierce enough during the spring and into the fall. All three go into the spring as the starter. They each are the most experienced quarterbacks on their respective rosters. But ...

At Syracuse, Hunt is coming off a broken leg and will face competition from AJ Long and Austin Wilson. Long and Wilson both played last season after Hunt went out, giving the coaching staff much more to work with this spring.

At Wake Forest, coach Dave Clawson said Wolford will get the first-team reps but his quarterback will have to win the starting job again after the Deacs signed two highly touted prep quarterbacks -- Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns.

At Pitt, Voytik will have to learn a new system and face new competition from Tennessee transfer Nathan Peterman. While Voytik is expected to keep his starting job, there are no guarantees here, either.

The new starter
The skinny: Sirk has taken first-team reps so far this spring as he works to replace two-year starter Anthony Boone. Parker Boehme and Nico Pierre have provided competition but coach David Cutcliffe has already declared Sirk the starter.

The open competitions

[+] EnlargeSean Maguire
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesSean Maguire will enter the spring practice session as the backup QB with the most experience at FSU.
Boston College: Darius Wade, Troy Flutie. Wade is the favorite to win the starting job, but Flutie is expected to get a fair shake. This is what coach Steve Addazio had to say about both during his signing day news conference: "Darius Wade has got a great arm and he throws the ball extremely well. Troy Flutie is a great anticipator, which is a unique quality to have as a quarterback. He does a great job anticipating guys coming out of their breaks. He doesn't have to see them open. So both of those guys have unique tools and both are very athletic."

Florida State: Sean Maguire, J.J. Cosentino. One of the most anticipated competitions in the entire country will take place in Tallahassee, where Jimbo Fisher must replace Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston. Maguire served as the backup last season, but that does not necessarily make him the favorite to win the job. Cosentino came in last year as an ESPN 300 prospect and redshirted. Fisher said true freshmen De'Andre Johnson and Deondre Francois -- both ESPN 300 players -- will also get a shot. Johnson is already in for spring.

Louisville: Reggie Bonnafon, Tyler Ferguson, Kyle Bolin. With Will Gardner out for spring and no timetable set for his return after another major knee injury, the Cardinals are expected to have a heated open competition in the spring between Bonnafon, Ferguson and Bolin. Bonnafon played as a true freshman last season and showed some promise before getting injured late in the year. Bolin was then forced to play with Bonnafon and Gardner out. Though he led a comeback win over Kentucky, he was not nearly as effective in the bowl game against Georgia. Ferguson transferred from Penn State and sat out last season, and could end up being the wild card in the group.
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National recruiting coordinator Craig Haubert joins ESPN's Phil Murphy to explain the ESPN Ultimate Class Rankings, Alabama's top billing and which program made a significant climb in 2014.
The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since we began evaluating high school athletes in 2006. While many names on the list were highly recruited and ranked coming out of high school, there is also a good portion of players who were unheralded or lower ranked and went on to reach great heights in college and beyond.


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ACC morning links

February, 17, 2015
Feb 17
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The NFL combine officially begins Tuesday, with over 300 NFL hopefuls set to be poked, prodded, questioned, timed and tested.

As has been the case in recent years, more prospects are invited than will get drafted, but everybody has a shot at either helping -- or potentially hurting -- themselves. This year, the ACC has 57 players represented -- including 12 from Florida State and 11 from Louisville. Those numbers do not come as much of a surprise.

This one does: Duke, which has had four players drafted since 2000, has four players at the combine -- Anthony Boone, Jamison Crowder, Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield. Crowder turned heads at the Senior Bowl, and he discussed his NFL potential in an insightful diary entry he wrote for USA Today.

Meanwhile, Mike Huguenin of NFL.com lists DeVante Parker and Phillip Dorsett as receivers to watch during the combine. Dorsett, who has the potential to clock the fastest 40 time at the combine, has risen up draft boards along with teammates Denzel Perryman and Ereck Flowers. In all, eight Miami players will be at the combine -- proof the talent is still there in Coral Gables.

One more player to watch is Wake Forest cornerback Kevin Johnson, rated the No. 2 cornerback available by ESPN's Kevin Weidl, ahead of P.J. Williams and Ronald Darby. Weidl says Johnson, "has the most natural man coverage skills in this year's class."

But of course, the biggest story headed into Indianapolis is Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, who has become the popular name atop mock drafts across various publications. Mike Mayock of NFL Network says he expects Winston to go first overall to Tampa Bay despite off-the-field concerns. Of course, we are only at the beginning of the draft process, and small things end up getting blown out of proportion. Winston will be scrutinized until draft day and beyond.

As if anybody needed proof, check what happened this past weekend. Winston became the subject of Twitter speculation when a photo of him was posted that made him look overweight. Turns out that the photo was a month old and showed Winston with a black band tied tightly across his waist. No matter what he looks like, his quarterback coach, George Whitfield, said Winston has not yet decided whether to throw at the combine.

Stay tuned.

Elsewhere across the ACC:
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COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- When the top prospects get together at an even such as the Pylon 7-on-7, there are always a number of interesting topics on the recruiting front to be discussed. In particular, last weekend’s 7-on-7 featured many of the top skill prospects in Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties and that meant the Miami Hurricanes were a topic of discussion.

When talking about Miami in it’s current state, the main question is when or if The U will be back among the nation's elite.

After a 9-4 season in 2013, the Hurricanes took a step back in 2014, finishing 6-7, albeit with a talented freshman quarterback in Brad Kaaya who certainly provides Miami fans hope for 2015 and beyond. That means the 2015 season is a make-or-break one for Al Golden and staff with the rival Florida State Seminoles winning and recruiting at a very high level and the Florida Gators sure to get the recruiting bounce in 2016 after a coaching change and the ability to sell a vision for the future to top prospects in the Sunshine State.


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Ultimate ESPN 300: 15 things to know

February, 16, 2015
Feb 16
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The Ultimate ESPN 300 is RecruitingNation's ranking of the best prospects since we began evaluating high school athletes in 2006. That means there are many names on the list known to college football and recruiting fans since coming out of high school. The list can also provide glimpses of which states have been top producers since 2006 and which teams have done the best and worst jobs of evaluating prospects and producing players.

Here are 15 things to know about the Ultimate ESPN 300:

15. Some classes turn out better than others, and that is true of the 2009 class. There are 45 players from the class in the Ultimate ESPN 300, the most of any class, including 15 that became first-round NFL draft selections. That includes four who signed with Alabama: Trent Richardson, Dre Kirkpatrick, D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack.

14. Bob Stoops recruited and coached 13 players on the list. Of the 13, four were first-round NFL draft selections led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy and 2008 Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford. Nine of the 13 were also members of the Sooners team that lost to Florida for the 2009 BCS National Championship.

13. The teams that played for the 2012 BCS National Championship, Alabama and LSU, were supremely talented. There are 22 players from those rosters in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 14 for the Crimson Tide.

12. Quite possibly the most important part of the recruiting process for coaches is keeping the best at home. Well, only 137 of the Ultimate ESPN 300 stayed in state to play college football. One important aspect of this stat is that not every player on the list had the option to stay in state.

11. The teams from the 2014 BCS title game are well represented on the list. Twenty-three players from Florida State and Auburn make the list, with the Seminoles accounting for 18.

10. NCAA FBS single-game-rushing record holder Samaje Perine enters the list after a freshman season of 1,713 yards and 21 touchdowns for the Oklahoma Sooners. His 427 yards against Kansas in 2014 broke the record a week after Melvin Gordon had set a new mark.

9. The 2011 class is special. That class has 41 players in the Ultimate ESPN 300, including 12 first-round NFL draft picks with more possible, including Marcus Mariota, La'El Collins and Shane Ray. The Sunshine State led the way in the 2011 class with first-round picks: Sammy Watkins, Teddy Bridgewater, Ryan Shazier, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kelvin Benjamin with more possible to be added to the list.

8. As expected, the state of Florida leads the way with 52 players on the list. Texas is second with 35, and California third with 28. Georgia follows with 18. Only 23 of the 52 from the Sunshine State stayed in state for college, but 19 of those players left college with national championship rings.

7. There are 15 players who signed with USC on the list, including Jarvis Jones, who would later transfer to Georgia. That's the most from a school on the list that hasn’t won a national championship since 2006. Notre Dame is second on that list with 12.

6. There are six quarterbacks from the state of Texas in the Ultimate ESPN 300, and only one was recruited heavily and offered early by the University of Texas: Matthew Stafford. The five who weren’t offered or recruited as quarterbacks by the Longhorns: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Johnny Manziel, Ryan Mallett and J.T. Barrett.

5. There are 17 players on the list recruited by Urban Meyer. The impressive list includes Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, along with Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott and J.T. Barrett from 2015 national champion Ohio State.

4. St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is the high school with the most players on the list with six. That includes NFL running backs Gionvani Bernard and James White, who were members of the same backfield.

3. Nick Saban has recruited 25 players to Alabama on the prestigious list. Of those 25, 11 have been first-round NFL draft selections, with that number to hit 13 in a couple of months with Amari Cooper and Landon Collins projected to be 2015 first-rounders.

2. South Florida's Dade and Broward counties are the two most talented counties in the country that neighbor each other. To illustrate that fact, 22 members of the Ultimate ESPN 300 are from the otherworldly talented counties, including five NFL first-round draft picks, with that number expected to jump to seven or eight in April. Add in Palm Beach County, which neighbors Broward, and that number jumps to 29 of the 300, including seven first-round picks, with that number sure to hit double digits in two months. If one is a Miami (Fla.) fan, time to turn away, as only four of the 22 from Dade and Broward counties played for the Hurricanes.

1. How do you win three national championships in six years? Jimmys and Joes are where it must begin, and Alabama has the most of any school on the list with 27. More than half of the 27 have been or will be first-round draft selections after this year's draft. Both Florida and Florida State have 18 apiece on the list.
COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- The 2015 Pylon 7-on-7 tournament at Cocoa Beach High drew many of the top prospects in Florida in the 2016 class Saturday. More than 15 skill players in the ESPN Junior 300 competed throughout the day, including nationally recruited juniors such as Trayvon Mullen, Darnell Salomon and quarterback Ervin “Woody” Barrett.

Here are notes on some of the top players in attendance:


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COCOA BEACH, Fla. -- The Pylon 7-on-7 2015 tournament at Cocoa Beach High drew many of the top prospects in Florida and beyond in the 2016, 2017 and even 2018 classes Saturday. More than 15 skill players in the ESPN Junior 300 competed throughout the day, including nationally-recruited juniors such as Trayvon Mullen, Dredrick Snelson and quarterback Ervin “Woody” Barrett.

Here is the latest on several Sunshine State prospects.

Eli Stove, WR
ESPN Junior 300 ranking: No. 80


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Predicting the preseason AP top 10

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
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In each of the past six years, during the offseason, I have come up with a projected top 10 of the preseason AP poll on my website. I do this by taking several different factors into account:

• Most AP voters usually look at a couple of criteria when they evaluate a team for the upcoming season. First, they look at the number of returning starters the team has coming back, particularly at the offensive skill positions. A team that returns its starting quarterback and a combination of its running backs and wide receivers, for example, is often more highly regarded than a team that loses its starting quarterback but returns its entire offensive line. Similarly, a team that returns most of its starters on offense but loses a lot of its defensive playmakers is usually more highly regarded than a team that returns a majority of its defensive starters but loses its skill-position players on offense. 

• Another factor weighed heavily is the performance of the team in its bowl game, which is undoubtedly the lasting image voters carry with them during the offseason. A team coming off a huge bowl win is usually more highly regarded than a team that is coming off a bowl loss, regardless of what its schedule looks like for the upcoming season.

• Also weighed heavily is where the teams finished the previous year. Naturally, teams that finished somewhere in the rankings (top 25) have a much better chance of being preseason top 10 than a team that finished unranked last year.

Using these factors -- and a few others, such as strength of schedule -- I project the preseason AP top 10 every year at the start of February, which in most cases is six months in advance of the poll's release. Now, as you all know, a lot can happen between February and August, including injuries, suspensions and transfers. But over the past six years, I have been very successful using this method, correctly projecting 56 of 60 teams (93.3 percent), including a perfect 10-for-10 again in 2014.

Before I go into the rankings, it is important to make the point that this is NOT my preseason top 10 for next season, but rather what I am projecting the AP top 10 will look like to start the season. If you're familiar with my college football preview magazine, you will know that every year I tend to go out on a limb for a couple of teams in my top 10, and this year will be no different.

Now, let's take a look at this year¹s projected preseason AP top 10 teams.

1. Ohio State Buckeyes


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ACC morning links

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
9:00
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Because most teams won’t start spring practice for a few more weeks, we’re in the season of list-making, and Bleacher Report has an interesting rundown of its top weapons in college football.

The list includes 25 players, with just three coming from the ACC: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, Georgia Tech QB Justin Thomas and Florida State RB Dalvin Cook.

It’s tough to argue with those selections. If we’re making a list of ACC player of the year candidates, those would certainly be among the favorites. Having said that, there are plenty of other big-time playmakers around the league.

Obviously Pittsburgh’s James Conner and Tyler Boyd warrant mentioning, while Miami’s Brad Kaaya, UNC’s Ryan Switzer and Clemson’s Artavis Scott and Mike Williams all are emerging stars.

But looking a bit deeper, here are a few more names who figure to be legitimate weapons around the ACC in 2015…

QB: North Carolina’s Marquise Williams was terrific last season, and he’s poised to be even better this year with a more established O-line and some talented receivers to work with. After Mitch Trubisky was shuffled to the bench full-time starting in October, Williams racked up 25 touchdowns. Only five Power 5 QBs had more, and four of them finished in the top 10 in Heisman balloting.

RB: NC State’s Matt Dayes didn’t get a full workload last season, and that might not change dramatically in 2015, but when it comes to all-around weapons, he’s one of the ACC’s best. Dayes was the only player in college football last season to tally at least 300 yards rushing, receiving, and on returns while scoring at least 10 touchdowns. In the last decade, just 14 others have done that, and the list includes some big names such as Reggie Bush, DeMarco Murray, C.J. Spiller, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Maurice Jones-Drew and Jeremy Maclin.

WR: Florida State’s Travis Rudolph averaged 15 yards per catch last season, the sixth-best total among returning ACC receivers, as a true freshman. He improved dramatically as the year went along, catching 11 passes for 136 yards in the ACC Championship Game and Rose Bowl.

TE: Virginia Tech’s Bucky Hodges is as big a mismatch on offense as any team will have this season. The Hokies used him as a traditional tight end, split him out wide and lined him up in the Wildcat routinely last year. He was among the ACC’s top red-zone targets, and only Wake’s Cam Serigne had more catches among returning Power 5 tight ends.

And while Bleacher Report’s list included just one full-time defensive player, FSU’s Jalen Ramsey, Duke's Jeremy Cash, Clemson’s Mackensie Alexander, Virginia’s Quin Blanding, Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller and Louisville’s Sheldon Rankins all warrant discussion, too.

A few more links:

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