football Edit

ACC title game: Key players and how they were ranked in HS

Trevor Lawrence
Trevor Lawrence (AP Images)

Mark Pszonak contributed to this report.

The ACC title game looks like a mismatch on paper, but will it be closer than many think? Here are some key players on each side and how we liked them out of high school.

RELATED: Where the SEC title game's stars came from

CLASS OF 2020 RANKINGS: Rivals250 | Position | Team | State

CLASS OF 2021 RANKINGS: Rivals100 | Position | Team | State



The skinny: Lawrence committed to Clemson in December after his junior season and never wavered on his word. After leading the Tigers to a national championship during his true freshman season, expectations were through the roof coming into 2019. And while his performance in the early stages of this season were a bit disappointing, he has regained his impressive stride and has the Clemson offense currently clicking at a remarkable rate. Coming into this game with 2,870 yards and 30 touchdowns through the air and another seven touchdowns on the ground, the Cavs will need to find a way to slow Lawrence down.

Farrell’s take: Lawrence is the best quarterback I’ve ever scouted and a rare talent, and he’ll be hard to beat as he tries for a second national title. He started slowly by his standards this season, but he’s on fire now. He had no weaknesses as a high school prospect.


The skinny: Etienne was initially committed to Texas A&M but re-opened his recruitment two months later. After trimming his list to Clemson, LSU and Tennessee, and taking official visits to Clemson and Tennessee in January, he committed to the Tigers a week before National Signing Day. Sometimes overshadowed by Lawrence’s production, Etienne followed up a huge 2018 season with an equally impressive 2019 campaign. Currently with 1,386 yards on the ground, 289 yards through the air and 18 total touchdowns he has proven himself to be one of the top all-around running backs in the country.

Farrell’s take: This is a kid I thought might be under-ranked, because he had size, speed and shiftiness. LSU really coveted him but much too late and Clemson did a great job winning this recruiting battle. He’s faster than I expected and his burst has improved greatly. As a guy just outside of that four-star ranking, he is making our evaluation look bad. Etienne has already turned into one of the fastest and most explosive running backs in college football and could make a case for the best running back in the nation.


The skinny: Simmons took official visits to Clemson, Missouri, Michigan, Nebraska and Illinois before committing to the Tigers on National Signing Day. His final official visit was to Clemson, which solidly put the Tigers over the top. With the Clemson defensive line garnering much of the attention for the unit last season, Simmons managed to slide under the radar despite being a consistent contributor. Now with all eyes on him in 2019, he has proven to be a next-level performer. Currently with 84 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception, Simmons is a big play waiting to happen.

Farrell’s take: Simmons was a high three-star prospect and a rare commitment from Kansas for Clemson who has blossomed into a star the NFL loves. He was a huge safety coming out and we thought he might grow into a linebacker, so there were some question marks surrounding how he would develop. Those look silly now. He’s simply a baller and one of the top defenders in the country.


The skinny: A true freshman, Davis quickly made his name known in Death Valley, as he entrenched himself on the interior defensive line. He comes into the game with 33 tackles, seven tackles for loss, four sacks and a fumble recovery.

Farrell’s take: Davis was a powerful defensive tackle with excellent athleticism and the ability to pursue the quarterback coming out of high school. I loved the way he hustled and ran plays down to the outside. We had him ranked in the Rivals250, but he’s played like a Rivals100 prospect so far and could end up being the next great defensive tackle at Clemson.


The skinny: Higgins initially committed to Tennessee, but then decommitted after taking an unofficial visit to Clemson after his junior season. The Tigers quickly made him a priority, which led to his commitment in July. While an argument could also be made for Justyn Ross being on this list, it is Huggins who has turned the the most consistent performance this fall. Currently with 43 receptions for 900 yards and 10 touchdowns, he is also Lawrence’s favorite target in the red zone.

Farrell’s take: Higgins was a five-star freak coming out of high school, a tall and big receiver who had great body control and reminded me of A.J. Green. He’s taking the next step this season despite some offensive struggles early at Clemson and the NFL will fall in love with him. He has a chance to be an NFL superstar and his ability to adjust to the ball as a big receiver is rare.



The skinny: Deciding to follow his father’s footsteps, Perkins committed to Arizona State over UCLA and Northwestern during the spring after his junior season. His father, Bruce, had previously played running back for the Sun Devils. Perkins redshirted in 2015 and then missed the 2016 season due to a broken neck before deciding to transfer. After a pit stop at Arizona Western JC for one season, he found a new home at Virginia, where he has been the starter since 2018. Since his arrival, he has been steady and reliable. Passing for 2,949 yards and 16 touchdowns while rushing for 687 yards and 11 touchdowns this fall, Perkins will need to be at his best against Clemson.

Farrell’s take: Perkins was rated as a high three-star and at times he’s played like a four-star for Virginia. But for a player with few offers to become a two-year starter and one of the ACC’s best quarterbacks, a high three-star ranking isn’t bad and he’s playing as we expected.


The skinny: Dubois committed to Virginia during an unofficial summer visit. He decided to stick with the Cavs through a coaching change and canceled official visits to Pittsburgh and Michigan in January. Coming off a breakout 2018 season, Dubois has become the Cavs' best big-play threat in the passing game this fall. Despite having fewer receptions than both Joe Reed and Terrell Juna, his 849 yards and 15.4 yards per reception should get Clemson's attention.

Farrell’s take: Dubois was a big wide receiver out of high school who could have grown into a tight end. He stayed as a big wideout and has been a nightmare matchup for some teams. He’s great at getting behind a defense.


The skinny: Considered more of a basketball recruit, Snowden held no other football offers when he committed to Virginia during his senior season. While an under-the-radar recruit, he has flourished over the last two seasons in Charlottesville. Coming into this season as one of the defensive leaders, he has not disappointed with 63 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and one fumble recovery.

Farrell’s take: This is an example of a terrific athlete focusing on the right sport late and blossoming. Snowden was an afterthought out of high school and now he’s one of the ACC’s best defenders.


The skinny: Zandler committed to Virginia during his senior season. He committed to the Cavs over offers from Michigan State, Boston College, West Virginia, Syracuse and others. While Snowden’s production was expected, Zandier’s improvement has been a pleasant surprise for the Cavs. Coming into this game with a team-leading 85 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss, to go along with five sacks and one interception, Zandler will need to come up with a few big plays for the Cavs.

Farrell’s take: Zandier has arrived at UVA and the promise we saw out of high school is being fulfilled - and then some. He was a big, physical linebacker coming into college who anticipated the play well and now he’s the defensive leader.


The skinny: With his only other offer coming in from Elon, Blount committed to Virginia in the spring after his junior season. His father, Tony, had played at Virginia in the late 1970s. Now in his third season at Virginia, Blount’s production has continuously improved in Charlottesville. A leader in the secondary, he enters the game with 79 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and a team-leading three interceptions.

Farrell’s take: Blount was a tall, skinny overlooked defensive back out of high school who has emerged as a ball-hawk and playmaker. He’s also very good at blitzing off the edge.