Miami Football: 5 Toughest Players Hurricanes Will Face in 2014
Throughout the 2014 college football season, the Miami Hurricanes will face some of the nation's toughest individual talents.
The Atlantic Coast Conference may not be an elite league overall, but Jameis Winston and a few other athletes are elite players.
A few honorable mentions are also discussed because it was not fair to exclude every second-tier opponent. The remainder of the list is organized chronologically, not necessarily by merit.
Additionally, Bleacher Report's Brian Pedersen tabbed the 50 best college football players for the 2014 season, and his rankings will be referenced when applicable.
Lorenzo Mauldin, DE, Louisville
Though he had a quiet three-tackle night during the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl, Lorenzo Mauldin racked up 9.5 sacks last season.
The second-team All-AAC honoree helps offset the loss of Marcus Smith, the conference player of the year, and Roy Philon, who also tallied 12 tackles for loss.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
After an eight-catch, 203-yard, two-touchdown explosion against Miami in 2012, the 'Canes limited Crowder to six receptions and 53 yards last year. Crowder has also averaged 21.5 yards per return on six attempts.
Granted, Duke's running game was dominant in the 2013 game, so Anthony Boone was not forced to attempt many passes. But as the Blue Devils retool their backfield, Crowder will become an even more dangerous target.
Ryan Switzer, WR, North Carolina
Pedersen Ranking: No. 42
Though his impact on offense was virtually nonexistent last season, "dynamic" may not do UNC wide receiver Ryan Switzer justice. The 5'8" speedster was an electric asset on special teams, returning five punts for touchdowns in 2013.
Oh, and he was only a true freshman. Switzer has become one of the most exciting players to watch, but he isn't exactly a treat to defend.
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
Pedersen Ranking: No. 6
Randy Gregory arrived at Nebraska as a heralded JUCO transfer, and he certainly backed up the hype. In 2013, the 6'6" defensive end registered 10.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss and was named first-team All-Big Ten.
But apparently, that was just the beginning.
"Gregory hasn't even scratched the surface of what he's going to become, what he's going to be," Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said during spring practice, per Eric Olsen of The Associated Press. And that could be scary.
He will be testing Ereck Flowers and Taylor Gadbois, and the Miami offensive line must be prepared for an absolute menace on Sept. 20.
Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska
Pedersen Ranking: No. 23
When the 'Canes travel to Lincoln Memorial Stadium for the prime-time nonconference showdown, Gregory isn't the only superstar they'll have to contain.
Last season, Ameer Abdullah notched 11 100-yard performances during the Cornhuskers' 13 games. The sub-100 nights? He managed a mere 98 and 85 against UCLA and Iowa, respectively.
While the Nebraska O-line returns just 32 collective starts, according to Phil Steele, Colorado transfer Alex Lewis is available after sitting out the mandatory year.
Plus, similar to 'Canes running back Duke Johnson, Abdullah is the catalyst for his team's offense. The 'Huskers will be looking for the senior to immediately fluster Miami in a loud, loud stadium.
Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Pedersen Ranking: No. 29
The fourth in a line of familial tradition at Virginia Tech, Kendall Fuller's 2013 performance was worthy of a freshman All-American accolade. He tallied 58 tackles, six interceptions and 11 passes defended and was named ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Between superb speed and outstanding cover skills, Fuller is among the toughest cornerbacks in the nation, let alone the best who will challenge Miami receivers.
To that point, Fuller lining up opposite Stacy Coley should generate one of the most entertaining battles this season, especially in conference play. Because any battle that Coley does not routinely win in 2014 is worth watching.
Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State
Pedersen Ranking: No. 1
Florida State is expected to be heavily favored in every 2014 game, and quarterback Jameis Winston is a major reason for that.
Though he did throw a pair of interceptions in the recent edition of the rivalry, Winston was still difficult for Miami to keep in check. No, that's not a popular sentiment, but 325 passing yards and a 72.4 percent completion percentage are hard to successfully ignore.
When the 'Canes host the 'Noles on November 15, Winston will be the best player on the field. After all, he was considered the best player in the nation last year, winning the Heisman Trophy.
And anyone who has that hardware on his shelf is obviously a dangerous player throughout his collegiate days.
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Pedersen Ranking: No. 11
As a true freshman, Tyler Boyd proved himself as one of the top receivers in the ACC, compiling 85 receptions for 1,174 yards and seven touchdowns. He also averaged 22.1 yards per kick return, adding another touchdown both on the ground and via a punt return.
Against Miami in 2013, Boyd snagged nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, consistently finding open areas in the Hurricanes secondary.
Unquestionably, the Miami corners—Tracy Howard, Ladarius Gunter and Artie Burns—will repeatedly be challenged by the all-conference receiver.