50 ACC players to watch, 50 days before the 2024 college football season

College football returns in just under 50 days, so it’s time to take a look at some of the ACC’s top players ahead of the 2024 season.

Reigning ACC champion Florida State and Georgia Tech tip off at noon on Aug. 24, and ACC newcomer SMU plays Nevada that evening.

But most of the league starts the following week. In 50 days, UNC will play Minnesota in a marquee game on the first Thursday night of the season.

Here are some of the ACC’s top players from each of the league’s 17 teams entering the 2024 season.

LeQuint Allen, running back, Syracuse

The junior running back was an All-ACC selection last season, recording 1,064 rushing yards on 245 carries with nine touchdowns.

Elic Ayomanor, wide receiver, Stanford

As a redshirt sophomore, Ayomanor led the Cardinal’s offense with 62 receptions for 1,013 yards and six touchdowns.

Chico Bennett Jr., DL, Virginia

The defensive end is closing in on 100 career tackles, with 7 ½ sacks and two forced fumbles. He was selected to the All-ACC team.

Malik Benson, wide receiver, Florida State

Benson, the top recruit out of college before leaving for Alabama, could end up being FSU’s top wide receiver. He had three catches for 162 yards and a touchdown in six starts last season.

Shyheim Brown, S, State of Florida

An All-ACC selection, Brown recorded 53 tackles and four pass breakups last season as one of the Seminoles’ top players in the secondary.

Demond Claiborne, running back, Wake Forest

The junior had 137 carries for 620 yards and five touchdowns last season. He averaged 4.28 yards per carry.

KC Concepcion, WR, NC State

Concepcion, the ACC Rookie of the Year and 2023 Offensive Rookie of the Year, set NC State rookie records for receptions (71) and receiving TDs (10) last season.

Jasheen Davis, DL, Wake Forest

The veteran defensive lineman had 49 tackles, including 16 for loss and 7 ½ sacks, with 10 quarterback pressures last season.

Donovan Ezeiruaku, DL, Boston College

Ezeiruaku, a veteran defensive end, started all 13 games last season and was fourth on the team in tackles (53), including 6 ½ for loss.

Tre Freeman, LB, Duke

Freeman, one of the ACC’s top linebackers in 2023, had 106 tackles and four pass deflections. The redshirt junior is among the league’s most underrated players.

Oronde Gadsden II, TE, Syracuse

After missing most of the 2023 season, Gadsden returns as one of the top tight ends in the country. In 2022, he broke Syracuse’s single-season record for receptions and receiving yards for a tight end.

Ashton Gillotte, DL, Louisville

Selected to the All-ACC first team, Gillotte had 14 ½ tackles for loss and 11 sacks in an All-American season as a junior.

Omarion Hampton, North Carolina running back

The second-year player emerged as one of the league’s top running backs last season. Hampton carried 253 times for 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns as part of the All-ACC first team.

Rodney Hammond Jr., running back, Pitt

The veteran running back had a team-high 547 yards and four touchdowns on 118 carries last season.

Jamal Haynes, running back, Georgia Tech

After moving from wide receiver to running back, Haynes rushed for 1,059 yards and was the MVP of the Yellow Jackets’ bowl game. He finished with seven rushing touchdowns.

Tucker Holloway, wide receiver for Virginia Tech

One of the ACC’s top pass-catchers, Holloway had five receptions for 49 yards and returned 20 punts for 258 yards. His 12.9 yards per punt return average was seventh in the nation.

Clemson quarterback Cade Klubnik

The junior started all 13 games last season for the Tigers, completing 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,844 yards and 19 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Georgia Tech quarterback Haynes King

The redshirt junior had 2,842 passing yards and 27 passing touchdowns last season. He also rushed for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns, joining Heisman Trophy winner Jayden Daniels as the only players to reach those numbers.

Caullin Lacy, WR, Louisville a

Lacy caught 91 passes for 1,316 yards and seven touchdowns as the Sun Belt’s leading receiver at South Alabama. He’ll look to repeat those numbers for the Cardinals.

Phil Mafah, running back, Clemson

After setting a school-record four rushing touchdowns in the Gator Bowl, Mafah enters his final season as one of the ACC’s best. He rushed for 965 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

RJ Maryland, tight end, SMU

The junior had 34 receptions, 518 yards and seven touchdowns as the top tight end in the American Athletic Conference last season.

Damien Martinez, Miami running back

The Oregon State transfer racked up 1,185 yards and nine touchdowns as a sophomore. Martinez had four rushes of 40 yards or more last season.

Donovan McMillion, S, Pitt

The senior defensive back started eight of 12 games at strong safety and led the Panthers in tackles with 105, the most by a Pitt defender since 2015.

RJ Mickens, South, Clemson

Mickens, Clemson’s veteran leader on the back end of its defense, has recorded 144 tackles, eight pass breakups and five interceptions in 47 games.

Francisco Mauigoa, LB, Miami

The senior linebacker was an All-ACC selection and led the Hurricanes with 82 tackles, including 18 tackles for loss and 7 ½ sacks last season.

Jaquez Moore, running back, Duke

The veteran running back has improved in each of his seasons with the Blue Devils, rushing for 674 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Jordan Moore, wide receiver, Duke

Moore, a graduate student, was converted to wide receiver and became Duke’s top option. In 2023, Moore had 62 receptions for 835 yards and eight touchdowns.

Bryson Nesbit, TE, North Carolina

Arguably the best tight end in the ACC, Nesbit was a first-team All-ACC selection last season. The senior had 41 receptions for 585 yards and five touchdowns in 2023.

TJ Parker, DL, Clemson

As a freshman, Parker had 12 ½ tackles for loss to set the true Clemson record for a freshman and tied for the national lead among rookies. The defensive end had 5 ½ sacks.

Patrick Payton, DL, Florida State

Payton, a junior in high school, is a favorite to finish the season as the ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He had 44 tackles, including 14 ½ for loss, with seven sacks and 10 pass deflections.

Jaydn Ott, runner, California

Ott does most of his damage as a runner, but he’s an all-purpose weapon for the Bears. The junior will enter the season ranked second among active FBS players with an average of 92.2 rushing yards per game, and fourth with an average of 119.58 all-purpose yards per game.

Antwaun Powell-Ryland, DL, Virginia Tech

The redshirt senior was selected to the All-ACC team last season. As a defensive lineman, he finished with 40 tackles and was second in the league with 14 ½ tackles for loss.

Xavier Restrepo, WR, Miami

The fifth-year player is coming off one of the best seasons ever by a wide receiver in Miami. Restrepo, a first-team All-ACC selection, had 85 receptions for 1,092 yards and six touchdowns last season.

Quincy Riley, cornerback, Louisville

Riley, a redshirt senior, started all 13 games for the Cardinals and finished with 45 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions.

Kam Robinson, LB, Virginia

Robinson, one of the league’s top freshmen last season, had 71 tackles, three pass breakups and two interceptions.

Kaimon Rucker, LB, North Carolina

Rucker, a graduate student, recorded 61 tackles, 15 for loss, 8 ½ sacks and 12 quarterback pressures last season.

Tristan Sinclair, LB, Stanford

The fifth-year player started all 12 games last season and finished with 71 tackles, including five for loss.

Brashard Smith, running back/receiver, SMU

The Miami transfer was selected as an All-ACC specialist last season. He had 69 receptions for 770 yards and four touchdowns last season. He finished with 1,946 all-purpose yards in three seasons.

Maurice Smith, OL, Florida State

Smith, a redshirt senior and FSU’s starting center, helped the Seminoles lead the ACC in scoring offense, total touchdowns and fewest turnovers.

Preston Stone, SMU quarterback

Stone, who is a junior and unsigned, is projected to be one of the ACC’s top quarterbacks. Last season, he had 3,197 passing yards and 28 touchdowns.

Dorian Strong, cornerback, Virginia Tech

The graduated defensive back is just the second FBS cornerback since 2014 with 300 or more coverage snaps to allow fewer than 10 receptions and fewer than 100 receiving yards in a season. He had eight pass deflections and three interceptions last season.

Ozzy Trapilo, OL, Boston College

A second-team All-ACC selection as a junior, Trapilo spent most of his time at right tackle and helped pave the way for 198.8 rushing yards per game, which ranked second in the ACC.

DJ Uiagalelei, Florida State quarterback

From Clemson to Oregon State to Florida State, Uiagalelei will try to keep the Seminoles atop the ACC. The redshirt senior had 2,638 passing yards and 21 passing touchdowns, plus six rushing touchdowns last season.

Cade Uluave, LB, California

Uluave, the Pac-12 Defensive Rookie of the Year, enters his second season with 66 tackles and six forced turnovers as one of the top newcomers in the ACC.

Cam Ward, Miami quarterback

In two seasons at Washington State, Ward recorded 6,963 passing yards and 48 touchdowns with 16 interceptions. He also had 13 rushing touchdowns before taking his talents to Miami.

Darius Washington, OL, Florida State

Washington, a redshirt senior and left tackle for FSU, was a first-team All-ACC selection last season. He started two games at center and eight games at left tackle.

Jordan Waters, running back, University of North Carolina

The Duke transfer gives the Wolfpack a legitimate threat in the backfield. Last season, he ranked fourth in the ACC with 12 rushing touchdowns and recorded 753 yards.

Marlowe Wax, LB, Syracuse

The veteran has started 38 consecutive games for the Orange. He led the team in tackles (110), tackles for loss (11 ½) and forced fumbles (4).

Aydan White, CB, North Carolina State

The veteran defensive back is one of the ACC’s best coverage corners. He has deflected 10 passes, had two interceptions and hasn’t allowed a touchdown reception over the past two seasons.

Peter Woods, DL, Clemson

Woods, an All-American defensive tackle in his first year, is projected to once again be among the league’s top defensive players.

You can contact editor Rodd Baxley at [email protected] or @RoddBaxley on X/Twitter.