football Edit

ACC championship game: Where the stars came from

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

With the conference championship games upon us, we thought we’d take a look at each team’s leading passer, rusher and receiver on offense and leading tackler and pass rushers on defense. Here’s how Clemson and Virginia Tech breaks down.

RELATED: SEC championship game stars



The skinny: Watson had no drama in his recruiting process as he committed to Clemson on Signing Day in 2012. After leading the Tigers to the national championship game and winning the Davey O’Brien Award, last season, even more was expected out of Watson this season. Once again he has the Tigers in position for a playoff run with 3,626 yards and 34 passing touchdowns, as well as 508 yards rushing and four touchdowns on the ground. Clemson is averaging 40 points per game and its passer rating has gone up from last season.

Farrell’s take: Watson came on strong last season, as he didn’t even make my midseason list of the top players in college football but was obviously way up on the postseason list. This year, he was my No. 1 on the preseason list and still remains near the top. We loved his run-pass ability in high school obviously, based on his ranking, and he has grown into an excellent decision-maker and one of the most dangerous weapons in college football. It’s not unexpected at all for us, the only site to have him as a five-star, but it was his character that really struck me when he was in high school. He’s still one of the highest character kids I’ve ever scouted, and all those who questioned his arm strength are looking silly now.

The skinny: Gallman committed to Clemson in early April, with the hopes of bringing his high school teammate Robert Nkemdiche, who was the No. 1 recruit in the nation, with him. Nkemdiche did originally follow Gallman to Clemson, but at the end re-opened his recruitment and signed with Ole Miss. With the Tigers, Gallman was an extremely important part of the Tigers offense last season with 1,514 yards and 13 touchdowns. While this season has not been as statistically successful, with 943 yards and 14 touchdowns, he is still able to carry the Clemson offense in spurts.

Farrell’s take: Remember when Gallman was just Nkemdiche’s teammate? As a junior he put up moderate stats and some felt he was gaining offers from schools trying to curry favor with his nationally ranked No. 1 teammate. We had Gallman as a high three-star and he has played like a high four-star and rising. He’s big, hits the line of scrimmage hard and has some wiggle. But what I like the best is his toughness and durability and how he can manage to make something out of nothing at times as we’ve seen with some poor blocking this season.

The skinny: As his senior season was fast approaching, Williams committed to Clemson over South Carolina. Alabama, Georgia, Notre Dame and Tennessee were also involved, but this came down to an in-state battle between the Tigers and Gamecocks. After a neck injury ended Williams’ season in 2015 he has returned this fall and shown everyone his full arsenal of talents. Currently with 79 receptions for 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns, his performance has also made him a likely high first round draft choice next spring.

Farrell’s take: Williams was a raw, skinny wideout with amazing upside out of high school in 2013. He made it inside our Rivals250 based on his body control and hands. He has now grown into a big, physical receiver who is a mismatch for smaller corners and a red zone natural. Bouncing back from his neck injury from last season has been good to see and his production in the red zone has increased as the season wore on.

The skinny: Boulware piled up offers during the winter and spring, before Clemson finally offered at the beginning of March. A couple of weeks later he trimmed his list of schools down to the Tigers and Georgia and then committed to Clemson soon after. Boulware has been a very steady contributor for the Tigers since his true freshman season, but has truly hit a new level over the last two years. Currently enjoying his best collegiate season, he has 95 tackles, 9 tackles for a loss, four sacks and three forced fumbles.

Farrell’s take: I remember Boulware at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas and the Under Armour All America Game and he was an animal. He wasn’t tall or long and wasn’t overly big, but he played with such passion and aggression and was such a leader we had to bump him in the end and put him in the Rivals250. He has played the same way in college that he did in high school and is the heart and soul of this defense.

The skinny: While Watkins had plenty of impressive offers, his process was a battle between Clemson and Florida. After taking an official visit to Gainesville and multiple visits to Death Valley, Watkins committed to the Tigers in October. Watkins has been a very important piece of Clemson’s dominant defensive line during the last two seasons. Currently with 36 tackles, 8 tackles for a loss and a team-leading 7.5 sacks, Watkins is also on NFL radars next spring.

Farrell’s take: I remember Watkins battling it out for defensive line MVP honors at our Charlotte VTO Camp back in the day with current NFL player Jonathan Bullard and each brought something different to the table. While Bullard was more athletic and natural as a pass rusher, Watkins was more powerful and was very quick with his hands on the inside. He’s a gap shooter, the kind of defensive tackle the NFL covets, and has been very active in pass rush this season as evidenced by his sack total.


The skinny: As a junior college recruit, Evans took official visits to Virginia Tech, Missouri, Nevada and Central Florida before committing to the Hokies while in Blacksburg in mid-December. Having enrolled in January, and with new coach Justin Fuente at the helm, he quickly became the front runner to earn the starting nod with the Hokies. Evans, who actually wasn’t named the starter until late August, has not disappointed this fall. With 3,045 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air, plus 713 yards rushing and eight touchdowns on the ground, Evans has added a huge spark to the Hokies offense.

Farrell’s take: The fact that Evans took the starting job so early and ran with it in Blacksburg is not a surprise. He has great size, his mobility is excellent and has become a star under Justin Fuente, who does a great job with signal callers. I absolutely loved this kid’s upside as a top 10 JUCO prospect because he always exudes confidence and was a pure leader.

The skinny: McMillian committed to Virginia Tech over Georgia Tech and California in late April, and despite getting a push from the Yellow Jackets, stayed firm with his word through Signing Day. After rushing for 1,043 yards as a redshirt freshman, he has had some of his workload lessened this fall due to the arrival of Evans, who actually leads the team in rushing. Despite getting less carries, McMillian has still accumulated 598 yards and four touchdowns, while averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Farrell’s take: A high three-star athlete out of high school, McMillian could have played offense or defense in college. He played quarterback in high school and was effective as a passer but better as a runner. He didn’t shy from contact, which is why defense was an option for him as well and he has turned into a solid running back.

The skinny: Ford initially committed to Louisville, but then flipped to the Hokies on Signing Day. South Carolina and Florida were also considered in the final days before he made his flip. Ford has been one of the more productive and consistent wide receivers in the ACC during his three years in Blacksburg. After totaling 56 receptions in 2014 and then 75 last season, he currently has 69 grabs for 949 yards and seven touchdowns for the Hokies.

Farrell’s take: Ford was a bit overlooked on his own team as Trinity Christian was loaded, especially at defensive back. Maybe the defensive backs were so good because they had to go against him all the time. Ford was tall and very skinny and there was some concern about how he’d fill out, but he also had very good hands while lacking elite speed. Now he’s developed into one of the most reliable threats on a week-to-week basis in college football and a guy shooting up the charts.

The skinny: Location was the main factor for Motuapuaka’s decision to commit to Virginia Tech. The ability to play in front of family and friends won out over offers from Stanford, Utah and Wake Forest and led to his commitment during the Hokies’ spring game. After redshirting in 2013, Motuapuaka has improved his productivity each of his seasons in Blacksburg. In 2016, he has truly hit a new level as he has totaled a team-leading 102 tackles, to go along with five tackles for a loss, two sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

Farrell’s take: Motuapuaka was a bit sawed off for his position but always had very good instincts and was solid in coverage. As a high three-star, we expected a solid career in college and that he’d be a reliable tackler who did his best work downhill. He has improved his tackling every game it seems and now has over 100.

The skinny: Notre Dame, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Oregon were also serious players for Ekanem, but at the end it was Virginia Tech that did enough to get his signature on Signing Day. Ekanem jumped on the national radar during a huge 2014 season that saw him finish with 15.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks. While he has been productive over the last two seasons, he has failed to build on that memorable performance. Currently with 31 tackles, 8.5 tackles for a loss and a team-leading 6.5 sacks, the Hokies will look for Ekanem to have an impactful day against the Tigers on Saturday.

Farrell’s take: Ekanem was a huge linebacker in high school that we felt would be a hybrid guy or grow into a defensive end. The bottom line was that his strength was getting after the quarterback whether it was standing up or with his hand on the ground and that has continued in college. He was built like a brick and was physically imposing and his 18 sacks as a senior were a big reason he was a Rivals250 prospect.