The ACC has bid farewell to some outstanding players from 2011. Some of them graduated, others have decided to leave early for the NFL. Whatever their reasons, they left behind some size 15 shoes to fill. Here’s a look at who on each team in the ACC will be the most difficult to replace in 2012, and a snapshot of who is or could be next in line to replace him:
OUT: Linebacker Luke Kuechly. He might be the most difficult player to replace in the ACC. Kuechly won the 2011 Lombardi Award, given annually to the nation’s top lineman or linebacker; the Nagurski Award, given annually to the nation’s top defensive player; the Dick Butkus Award, which is presented annually to the nation’s top linebacker; and the Lott IMPACT Defensive Player of the Year. He left early for the NFL after finishing his junior season leading the nation in tackles for the second straight year. In 2011, Kuechly set ACC records for tackles in a season (191) and career (532).
IN: It’s an open competition, but Sean Duggan played in nine games last year as a true freshman behind Kuechly and on the outside. Duggan had his first career interception at Miami, had three tackles against Virginia Tech and five against Clemson. Coach Frank Spaziani has also said that Steele Divitto is versatile enough to earn the starting job in the middle. Divitto, a junior, won the starting job at outside linebacker when Mark Herzlich left. Last year, Divitto was third on the team in tackles with 72, and finished with 3.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, an interception, and five pass breakups. Spaziani said redshirt freshman Nick Lifka will also be competing for Kuechly’s spot.