It was the Year of the Freshman in the ACC, as rookies were some of the league’s top players and made immediate contributions. Maryland’s defense wouldn’t have survived this year without its first-year players, and Wake Forest had the league’s defensive rookie of the year. Nobody, though, made a bigger splash nationally than Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins. Here’s a look at some of the top true and redshirt freshmen from 2011:
Clemson WR Sammy Watkins: He broke ACC freshman records for receptions (77), receiving yards (1,153) and touchdown receptions (11) -- the best totals in the nation among freshmen this season. His reception yardage total is the best in Clemson history regardless of class. Watkins had three games with at least 150 receiving yards, already a Clemson career record for 150-yard receiving games.
North Carolina RB Giovani Bernard: The redshirt freshman led North Carolina in rushing this year with 1,222 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He ranks third in the ACC in rushing and has more rushing yards than any other freshman nationally. With still one game remaining in his season, his yardage total is the third-best by an ACC freshman.
FSU WR Rashad Greene: Despite playing in only eight games, Greene finished as Florida State's leading receiver. He caught 33 passes for 497 yards and scored six touchdowns. An ankle injury derailed his season, but he could be one of FSU’s elite receivers in the years to come.
Wake Forest CB Merrill Noel: The redshirt freshman currently is tied for the national lead in passes defended with 20, including one interception and 19 pass breakups. Noel finished the regular season with 59 tackles, including 48 solo stops.
FSU DE Tim Jernigan: He had six tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks. He also had three quarterback hurries and recovered a fumble. Jernigan finished second in the voting for the ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year award.
Miami LB Denzel Perryman: He finished the season ranked first among ACC freshmen with 69 tackles and played in all 12 games. He finished his freshman season ranked second on the team in tackles (69) and tied for third on the team in tackles for loss (6.5).
Virginia CB Demetrious Nicholson: Nicholson started all 12 games and has 56 tackles (39 unassisted), eight pass breakups and two interceptions entering the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn.
Ones to watch for 2012:
FSU S Karlos Williams: He was the No. 5 overall player in the ESPNU 150 Class of 2011, but his playing time this year came sparingly. He played in all 12 of the Seminoles' games and had eight tackles in a limited role. He made an impact on special teams, but he wasn’t on the field enough for FSU fans to enjoy his sheer speed and athleticism. Lamarcus Joyner has the free safety position locked up, but at strong safety, Williams was behind veteran Terrance Parks and junior Nick Moody. While Williams probably has more natural ability than both, his knowledge of coordinator Mark Stoops’ scheme could be the difference in how much more he sees the field next year.
Miami DE Anthony Chickillo: He started nine games and played in all 12. Of his 38 tackles, 6.5 were behind the line of scrimmage, including five sacks. Chickillo also forced and recovered a fumble and registered a quarterback hurry. He finished third in the media's vote for ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Clemson OLB Stephone Anthony: He finished the year with 31 tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
FSU RB James Wilder Jr.: He rushed 31 times for 150 yards and one touchdown as the third-string running back in a crowded backfield. His role should increase next year.