Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
College football fans always want to know who the next quarterback will be, who the next great recruit is, and often the attention is splashed on baby-faced players who haven't even taken a snap yet. The spotlight, though, should be on the proven veterans -- the leaders who make a difference on and off the field, in the locker room and in the classroom. Those are the players I want to highlight today -- the super seniors of each team.
Here's a look at the best of the best in this year's ACC senior class, players who are respected by their peers and are expected to lead by example and make an impact on the field, just as they've done their entire careers:
WAKE FOREST: Quarterback Riley Skinner. He's already the school's winningest quarterback with 26 wins, and now he has a chance to go out with a record-setting season. He's got the supporting cast around him, and after the departure of so many playmakers on defense, he's the one the rest of the team will undoubtedly look to for leadership. Skinner owns the school records for passing efficiency and completion percentage in a career. Skinner will need to complete 27 passes, attempt 282, throw for 1,416 yards and throw 11 touchdown passes in order to set school records this fall.
VIRGINIA TECH: Cornerback Stephan Virgil. According to this year's media guide, Virgil has progressed further than any player under coach Torrian Gray's guidance. Virgil started all 14 games last year at field corner and tied for the team lead with six interceptions. Now, he'll continue the trend of replacing the top defensive back at the boundary corner, where he'll take over for Macho Harris. He's the most experienced player in the secondary, and he's also a member of four special-teams units. No doubt he'll be a leader on this defense.
VIRGINIA: Cornerback/quarterback Vic Hall. How many players are willing to help out in all three phases of the game? Hall spent most of this spring working at quarterback, where he finished 2008 in his first start against Virginia Tech. Hall made 59 tackles last season and is the team's leading returning tackler. He also picked off two passes, including one he returned for a touchdown. Last year, Hall was given the team's John Polzer Award for ability, sportsmanship and character. And here in the blogosphere, that counts.
NC STATE: Defensive end Willie Young. For as intimidating as he can be on the field, Young is the one who keeps everybody loose. He was a redshirt on the team that had three first-round draft picks on the defensive line (Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo), so he certainly has a base of experience to work with. Now he's the most experienced player on the team, having seen action in 1,667 snaps. Young has 31.5 career tackles for loss and 12.5 career sacks.
NORTH CAROLINA: Ryan Taylor. Taylor was the co-MVP on special teams last year and the unit's captain. Sports information director Kevin Best tells me "He's fearless." Taylor also became the first Carolina player in "who knows how long" to play on special teams, offense (TE) and defense (LB) in the same game (vs. NC State). His main focus is special teams, but he will see some time at tight end this year as well. He's developed into a proven leader and is certainly one guy the special teamers admire and look up to.
MIAMI: Offensive tackle Jason Fox. He's a rock, he's dependable, and he's surrounded by young'uns. Fox is a well-spoken, thoughtful player who is one of three team captains. He started 12 of 13 games for the Hurricanes at left tackle, missing his first career game against Virginia Tech. Overall, Fox has started and played in 36 career games. He even scored a rushing touchdown on a tackle-throw-back play against Florida State from five yards out.
MARYLAND: Center Phil Costa. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen has praised him from the end of last season through now. The veteran of the offensive line has embraced the leadership role, and taken a young group under his wing. Costa isn't a big cheerleader, but he's certainly someone the rest of the offensive line and offense respects. He also graded out as one of the Terps' top linemen last season, despite having five seniors. This is the one position on the offensive line the coaches aren't concerned about, and that's a huge compliment to Costa.
GEORGIA TECH: Linebacker Sedric Griffin. Last year Griffin entered the season buried on the depth chart, and he kind of got lost in the shuffle because he's a bit undersized. When his teammates were injured, Griffin came off the bench against Boston College and emerged as the Jackets' most consistent defensive player last season. He loves contact probably more than any player on the team. And, he's married.
FLORIDA STATE: Linebacker Dekoda Watson. Watson is a high-energy player who leads both by example and vocally. He's also one of the top defenders on the team and itching to get back on the field after missing this spring for shoulder surgery. The Noles lost six starters on defense, so they're looking for leaders who can tackle, too, and Watson fits the bill. He has three career defensive touchdowns and two blocked kicks.
DUKE: Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. He's a model student-athlete who is the heart and face of the program. Lewis never complains when asked by a Duke official or coach to do something, nor does he let the nation's dismissive attitude toward Duke football get to him. Instead, he's motivated by it. Lewis is the leading returning passer in the ACC after averaging 197.4 yards per game in 2008, and he leads all active ACC players in career passing yards and touchdown passes. He holds school records for most consecutive pass attempts without an interception (206). And he's determined to leave Duke knowing what it's like to go to a bowl game.
CLEMSON: Running back C.J. Spiller. His lengthy list of accomplishment could fill up a book, but his decision to return to the program instead of bolting for the NFL shows his commitment to Clemson and the man who recruited him, Dabo Swinney. With James Davis gone, all eyes will be on Spiller, and the offense will revolve around him. Spiller already owns 10 school records, but equally as impre
ssive is the fact that last fall, Spiller earned a 3.5 GPA and became the first running back in school history to make first-team All-ACC and the Dean's List in the same semester.
BOSTON COLLEGE: Linebacker Mike McLaughlin. He was voted a defensive captain by his teammates last year, but is now struggling to get back on the field because of a torn Achilles. There's no doubt this group sorely needs him, not just for his playmaking abilities, but also for his leadership. McLaughlin finished 2008 second on the team with 89 tackles, 53 solo stops, and four sacks, and he was third on the team with 12 tackles for loss.