Virginia Tech Football: Ranking Non-ACC Players Hokies Must Fear in 2012
Austin Peay and Bowling Green don't stack up to Florida State and Clemson, but Virginia Tech's four non-ACC opponents still boast a handful of dangerous playmakers on both sides of the ball who the Hokies should fear in 2012.
While there's no comparison to facing elite ACC stars like Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and North Carolina State cornerback David Amerson, the quartet of non-ACC teams on Virginia Tech's schedule shouldn't be taken lightly.
Pittsburgh features a trio of offensive playmakers and a potential stud on defense, while Bowling Green boasts a handful of All-MAC standouts.
Let's take a look at the 10 most dangerous non-ACC players the Hokies should fear in 2012.
10. Chris Jones, DT, Bowling Green
Checking in at the No. 10 spot on our list, Bowling Green's Chris Jones just happens to be the biggest guy on Virginia Tech's non-ACC radar.
The 6'1", 295-pound defensive tackle was named First Team All-MAC in 2011 after tying for the conference lead with 8.5 sacks.
A disruptive force on the interior, Jones also ranked among the conference leaders in tackles for loss with 14.
With another strong season, the senior should garner interest as a late-round possibility.
9. Matt Schilz, QB, Bowling Green
After posting excellent numbers in 2011, Bowling Green's Matt Schilz is the lone quarterback to make the cut.
The redshirt junior greatly improved after an uneven 2010 campaign where he threw for just eight touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions.
Although he completed just a shade under 60 percent of his passes last season, the 6'3", 220-pounder increased his passing yards from 2,223 to 3,024 while posting a terrific 28:13 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
With two years of starting experience, the Falcons' signal-caller is poised to become one of the better quarterbacks in the MAC.
8. Devin Stark, WR, Austin Peay
Austin Peay isn't a traditional powerhouse, but wide receiver Devin Stark sticks out as a player that any team on the Governors' schedule should fear.
The senior leader of the Governors' receiving corps utilizes his 6'3", 206-pound frame to out-muscle defensive backs and come down with tough catches.
Stark isn't a true burner, averaging just 11.8 yards on 53 receptions, but did snag seven touchdowns in his 2011 campaign.
Although he isn't a big name on the national radar, Austin Peay's top wideout was named to the 2012 College Football Performance Awards Watch List for NCAA Football Championship Subdivision wide receivers (via Associated Press).
7. Dwayne Woods, LB, Bowling Green
Along with teammate Chris Jones, linebacker Dwayne Woods is one of the anchors of Bowling Green's defense.
A tad undersized at 6'1", 227 pounds, the senior inside backer makes up for his underwhelming physical traits with toughness and instincts.
Woods is a multiple-time All-MAC selection, earning first-team honors in 2011 after leading the Falcons with 111 tackles, including 14 for loss.
During his two seasons as a starter, the stout run defender has also exhibited a knack for making big plays, racking up 4.5 sacks, three interceptions, eight pass break-ups and five forced fumbles.
Logan Thomas and Co. will have to account for Bowling Green's defensive leader come game time.
6. Anthon Samuel, RB, Bowling Green
Apparently Bowling Green has a thing for Monsignor Edward Pace High (Fla.) running backs.
With former Pace star Willie Geter wrapping up a solid four-year career with the Falcons, Anthon Samuel followed right in his predecessor's footsteps in making a big impact as a freshman.
Despite checking in at just 5'11", 183 pounds, Samuel wasted no time making his presence his known, setting the school's freshman rushing record with 844 yards in just nine games.
His terrific debut earned him the MAC Freshman of the Year Award, and with a full offseason to add some bulk to his frame, the Hokies will have to keep a watchful eye on Samuel.
5. Mike Shanahan, WR, Pittsburgh
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Tipping the scales at an imposing 6'5", 225 pounds, Pittsburgh receiver Mike Shanahan isn't even the best wideout on his team.
However, the redshirt senior is no slouch of his own.
A local star at Norwin High, Shanahan is a two-year starter who maximizes his size to be an effective possession receiver.
After tallying 15 receptions in limited action as a redshirt freshman, No. 87 has posted 82 catches for 1,082 yards and five touchdowns during the last two seasons.
Because teammate and No. 1 receiver Devin Street draws more attention from defenses, Shanahan stands out as a reliable secondary threat who could rack up a bunch of receptions against the Hokies.
4. Aaron Donald, DT, Pittsburgh
Defensive lineman Aaron Donald is one of the few former high-profile high school recruits to make this list.
After a dominating career at Penn Hills Senior High, Donald came to the Pittsburgh program as a 4-star prospect.
Despite an unorthodox build (6'0", 270 pounds), the true junior quickly made a name for himself during his sophomore season.
Thanks in part to his excellent burst, quickness and strength, Donald dominated at every position in the Panthers' 3-4 front, racking up 47 tackles, 11 sacks and 11 quarterback hurries.
With Pittsburgh returning to a 4-3 scheme (via Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette), the Panthers' best defensive lineman has the potential to be even better in 2012—a scary possibility for the Hokies.
3. Walter Stewart, DE, Cincinnati
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Playing next to 2012 draftees Derek Wolfe and John Hughes may have helped Walter Stewart, but the Cincinnati Bearcats defensive end is a well-respected player in his own right.
According to Rob Rang of CBS Sports, the 6'4" pass-rusher has made the impressive transition from a 216-pound high school linebacker to a 248-pound collegiate defensive end.
In his first season at his new spot, the supremely athletic defender finished second for the team lead in sacks (six) while also chipping in 44 tackles and four forced fumbles.
As Rang notes, Stewart could be a breakout star in 2012.
Attention, Hokies offensive linemen: Watch out for No. 54.
2. Devin Street, WR, Pittsburgh
Redshirt junior Devin Street appears to be the next receiver from the Pittsburgh program to emerge as a quality NFL prospect.
The 6'4", 190-pounder came to Pittsburgh as a 3-star prospect, but is developing into the go-to guy on offense.
While he doesn't boast the overall size and strength of former Panther and 2011 first-round pick Jonathan Baldwin, Street does use his length to high point the football, hauling in 53 receptions for 754 yards last year.
If he's able to become more consistent and harness his incredible natural gifts, Street could follow Pittsburgh alums Antonio Bryant, Larry Fitzgerald and Baldwin into the NFL.
1. Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh
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The 5'9", 190-pounder had already bested his 2010 campaign by rushing for 958 yards and nine scores after going off for 922 and eight as a sophomore.
His hot start in 2011 included two 200-yard performances and a 159-yard outburst against Rutgers in a 34-10 loss.
Like his predecessor LeSean McCoy, Graham makes up for a lack of size with excellent lateral quickness, vision and agility.
In addition, the senior tailback is a threat in the passing game, racking up 62 receptions in his three-year career.
If Graham is able to fully recover from his knee injury, there's no doubt he'll be the Hokies' No. 1 non-conference foe and a true threat to score every time he touches the ball.