The fact Pitt is playing at Virginia Tech this week is the perfect time for us to debate who is the ACC's best true freshman: Virginia Tech CB Brandon Facyson, or Pitt WR Tyler Boyd? Both have had amazing seasons so far, and it's only early October.
AA says: Facyson has had biggest impact.
There is no arguing Boyd is one of the top all-purpose players in the nation and incredibly fun to watch, too. But Facyson has been better because he has made the biggest impact on his team.
Here is why.
Virginia Tech went into spring practice in a bind. Starting cornerback Antone Exum badly injured his knee in a pickup basketball game in January and was out indefinitely. Facyson enrolled early and participated in spring practice, earning praise almost immediately. There was no doubt he would be in the mix to earn playing time and potentially start the opener against Alabama.
Even still, the youth in the secondary was one of the biggest concerns headed into the game against the Tide. Not many folks around the country knew what the Virginia Tech coaches had in Facyson. When it came time to play, Facyson started in Exum’s spot, becoming the first true freshman to start the season opener at cornerback under Frank Beamer, now entering his 27th year with the Hokies.
So Facyson made history to start. Then he played a terrific game. Alabama had a hard time getting the ball to its receivers in the opener. AJ McCarron finished with 110 yards passing and a QBR of 23.4. Facyson was one reason why.
But the history did not end there. Facyson already has four interceptions, which leads the ACC and is tied for the most in the nation. One more gets him the school freshman record for interceptions in a season. Facyson already has more than Virginia Tech alum and first-round NFL pick DeAngelo Hall had his freshman year.
To put his impact further into context, the Virginia Tech defense has been one of the best in the country, ranking in the top 5 in total defense. The Hokies rank No. 8 in the nation in pass efficiency defense, allowing quarterbacks to complete 48.5 percent and pass for 161.3 yards per game.
Virginia Tech posted similar numbers a year ago with Exum in the lineup, ranking No. 14 in pass efficiency defense. So essentially, the Hokies have not lost anything with a true freshman starting at cornerback. Exum clearly sees that. The second-team All-ACC selection was given medical clearance to play again last week.
But Exum decided to sit out, to be absolutely sure he is ready to return before retaking his starting spot. Facyson’s performance has given Exum more time to rehab, and that benefits both the Hokies and Exum. When Exum does return, there has been discussion of having Facyson play cornerback and receiver.
He is that talented. So, too, is Boyd, who has also been used in a variety of ways. But even with Boyd, the Pitt offense has not been markedly better than a year ago. The Panthers rank about the same in passing offense and total offense as they did in 2012.
There is no easy answer here. But if we are talking biggest impact on his team, Facyson gets the nod.
HD says: There's a new Boyd in town.
Shh, Pitt isn’t ready to admit this yet, but it’s true: The Panthers haven’t seen a rookie wide receiver like this since Larry Fitzgerald.
Tyler Boyd is that good.
The true freshman at Pitt has already made a name for himself as one of the most productive wide receivers in the country. Not since Fitzgerald has Pitt had a rookie receiver who possesses this type of body control and ball skills, who attacks the ball and shows instincts beyond his age.
Virginia Tech could have a few Fitzgerald flashbacks on Saturday when the teams meet in Blacksburg for a game that will have high stakes in the Coastal Division standings. In 2002, Fitzgerald caught three touchdown passes as a true freshman against the Hokies. Boyd did that a few weeks ago against Duke.
The key matchup on Saturday will be Pitt’s talented wide receivers against Virginia Tech’s elite secondary. Both feature two of the nation’s top freshmen, as cornerback Facyson has already made a case for the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Heck, he can play wide receiver, too.
Boyd, though, will have the upperhand in this matchup, and he should have it in the debate for the ACC’s best true freshman in 2013, too.
Boyd is eighth in the country in all-purpose yards (175.3), and no other true freshman even comes close. He leads the Panthers in scoring with 30 points on five touchdowns.
He has already had three consecutive 100-yard receiving games, making him one of only two Pitt freshmen to accomplish that feat (Antonio Bryant in 1999 was the other).
Part of what makes him Boyd so effective is that he isn’t the only option. He and Devin Street work in tandem, creating opportunities for each other. Street is averaging 111.2 receiving yards per game to rank second in the ACC and 16th nationally, while Boyd is averaging 106.2 yards to rank third in the ACC and 17th nationally.
Boyd’s production so far not only makes him the ACC’s best freshman it makes him one of the league’s best players, period.