Biggest shoes to fill: entire conference

March, 21, 2012
3/21/12
2:45
PM ET
We've looked at the biggest shoes to fill on each team. Now, we look at the best of the best and examine who must fill the shoes of the biggest star of the ACC in the 2011 season.

OUT: Luke Kuechly. The Boston College linebacker is all but assured of hearing his name called early on in the first round of next month's NFL draft, and with good reason. The linebacker set ACC records in both single-season tackles (191) and career tackles (532), despite leaving school early for the NFL. He will need a trophy case for just this past fall alone after earning the Lombardi Award (nation's top lineman/linebacker), the Nagurski Trophy (nation's top defensive player), the Butkus Award (nation's top linebacker) and being named the Lott IMPACT defensive player of the year. He led the nation in tackles in each of the past two seasons, and he added three interceptions in 2011 (to go with seven for his career.) It is unlikely that anyone in the ACC will be able to replace his star power in 2012, but a few will try.

IN: Sammy Watkins. Remember, this is who is filling the shoes of the conference's biggest star, not his position. Clemson's wide receiver looks primed to take the next step after a freshman season that saw him lead the ACC in all-purpose yards per game while finishing second in receiving yards per game, second in kickoff return average, third in catches per game and tied for third in touchdowns per game. He was fourth nationally in all-purpose yards per game (176). He averaged 93.77 receiving yards per game, 16th in the nation. Watkins had 82 catches for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns, in addition to 231 rushing yards on 32 carries. A similar season this fall will put the young receiver in the national spotlight even more.

Matt Fortuna | email

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