1. Biggest winner: Clemson. Though the Tigers took a hit with the departure of leading receiver DeAndre Hopkins, they gained big time when quarterback Tajh Boyd decided to return for his senior season. Boyd already has set a plethora of Clemson and ACC records during his two years as a starter. Is the third time a charm? In 2012, he had a higher completion percentage, threw for more touchdowns and set a Clemson record with 4,410 yards of total offense. That is in large part because he became a bigger threat out of the backfield, improving the running part of his game dramatically. Boyd ran for a career-high 514 yards and 10 touchdowns, and had eight games with double digits in carries. At least Clemson still has Sammy Watkins with Hopkins gone. What would Clemson have without Boyd?
Florida State will surely miss Bjoern Werner's ability to put pressure on opposing QBs.
2. Biggest loser: Florida State. Of the six early entrants, three came from the ACC champion Seminoles roster. Two helped form one of the top defenses in the nation. Defensive end Bjoern Werner won ACC Player of the Year honors and was a unanimous All-American. His decision was an absolute no-brainer. First-team All-ACC cornerback Xavier Rhodes also decided to leave early after becoming one of the top shutdown cornerbacks in the league, and should be a first-round selection. Offensive tackle Menelik Watson also declared. The bigger impact should be felt on defense, though Florida State proved this past season it has more than enough talent to fill the void when a superstar goes down.
3. Headscratcher: Watson. It is safe to say this decision surprised some, because he was not listed as one of the top tackles in the junior class. He also spent only one season with the Seminoles after transferring in from junior college. There is no question Watson's play completely upgraded the Florida State offensive line, which struggled in 2011. He has great size (6-foot-6, 320 pounds), but his experience is lacking. He's only played in 20 games in the United States since moving from England.
4. The replacements:
A.J. Blue, Romar Morris, RB, North Carolina. The Tar Heels are losing a unique talent in Giovani Bernard, who once again showed he can do just about anything on the football field. North Carolina will turn to Blue and Morris in 2013 to help fill his shoes. Both players saw extensive playing time in 2012, especially when Bernard was out with a knee injury. Blue and Morris combined for 819 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, and also made contributions in the passing game as well, with a combined 21 catches for 284 yards and three touchdowns.
Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson. The time is now for Bryant to step up and be a consistent deep threat for Boyd. He hasn't proven he can do that just yet. Bryant has shown the flashes that had him rated as one of the top prospects in the nation before arriving at Clemson. Last season, he had 10 catches for a whopping 305 yards and four touchdowns, but got himself suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl for academic reasons. With Hopkins gone, he has to be more reliable.
Mario Edwards Jr., DE, Florida State. Edwards was supposed to redshirt this past season, but was forced into duty when the Seminoles lost defensive ends Brandon Jenkins and Tank Carradine to injuries. Once Carradine went down late in the season, Edwards started in his place the final two games and had impact performances. Florida State will rely on him much more heavily in 2013, and he could be a rising star in the league.