As we begin to turn our attentions to the new college season, there's one division in particular I'm looking forward to watching. The ACC hasn't been ultra competitive in recent years and that won't necessarily change in 2010, but there are a number of big name prospects who we're likely to hear about when serious 2011 draft talk begins.
The team to beat in my opinion is Virginia Tech. The main reason being, I'm a big fan of running back Ryan Williams. As a redshirt sophomore going into 2010, you expect another productive season will almost certainly see him declare for next year's draft. Last year he registered 21 touchdowns and 1655 yards in his first year. He has decent size (5'10", 210lbs) and speed for the position and could easily be the first running back drafted in 2011. He's also a potential Heisman candidate, but much of that will be dependant on Tyrod Taylor's continued development as a passer and the Hokies ability to handle a relatively tough schedule - including a week one trip to Boise State.
Another team relying on their quarterback to reach their full potential is North Carolina. They have a big name defense that should perform to a high level in 2010, but they'll be restricted by limited offensive production. Nevertheless, there's the potential for a number of this roster to be called in the first two rounds next year. My favorite prospect is linebacker Bruce Carter, who really stood out when I watched him last year. If he can add a bit more bulk and not lose any of his speed, he's a first round pick and should go higher than Sean Wetherspoon (Atlanta, 19th overall). Robert Quinn is another being tipped to go early in 2011. He notched 11 sacks last year and is an aggressive, full blooded defensive end.
Marvin Austin (DT, UNC), Quan Sturdivant (LB, UNC) and Deunta Williams (S, UNC) are the three other 'big names' on the Tar Heels defense. Austin never really impressed me that much last year, but he has another season to prove he's worthy of a place in the first two rounds. Sturdivant has 249 career tackles in three years and projects as an 4-3 inside linebacker. Williams has the ball-hawk reputation teams are looking for at safety these days and picked off six passes last year. He could be a first round pick - like fellow ACC safety DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson). The Tigers will also be hoping for more from defensive end Da'Quan Bowers.
It doesn't stop there. Anthony Constanza (OT, Boston College) is regarded by some as the top offensive tackle legible for 2011. Miami are becoming relevant again and boast a potential high first rounder in five-technique Allen Bailey. Virginia cornerback Ras-I Dowling is the top rated senior at his position, although he has to prove he's worthy of first round consideration.
But perhaps the most interesting story will be Florida State. It'll be year one of the post-Bowden era and a big one too for quarterback Christian Ponder. He's a prospect I've seen ranked as a potential top five pick, whilst others put him in the third round bracket. Ponder has the potential to position himself firmly in the first round discussions and he improved significantly last year before injury cut short his season. It'll help playing behind one of the better college offensive lines, led by my favorite 2011 prospect - Rodney Hudson. Owning prototype size, smarts and athleticism for the zone blocking scheme, Hudson has to be on Seattle's radar this year. Talked about as a potential first round pick in 2010, Hudson returns for his senior year as one of the top rated prospects despite playing mainly as a guard. We'll have more on Hudson as the year develops, but the Seahawks would be wise to keep a watchful eye on his progress.