Say what you will about the ACC perhaps not sporting the same powerhouses as the SEC, for example, but there has been no shortage of excitement in conference play this season.
With three teams in the AP top 25 (Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami) the conference is well represented on the national stage.
Just this past Saturday we had nail biters that epitomized the rush of watching so many passionate football players grind it out.
Here at Bleacher Report we wanted to single out the game breaking, team leaders from around the conference.
So, we pooled together the collective thoughts from each team's columnists and had them nominate their teams best three players.
Yes, even Duke has players they can be proud of.
Yes they lost to Notre Dame this week, but it was a close one against a much improved Irish squad.
It may not comfort Eagles fans to say they played admirably, but it's true. They even had a chance at the end of the game until David Shinksie threw his third interception of the day.
He's not one of our mid-season All Americans but here's who is:
RB Montel Harris—If BC is going to return to the ACC Championship game for the third straight season, sophomore running back Montel Harris will be the one to carry them there. He's racked up almost 800 yards on the ground and 12 total touchdowns.
LB Luke Kuechly—If Harris is the chisel of this team, Kuechly is the hammer. He leads the team with 83 tackles, twice as many as anyone else. I'm positive he'd be a Butkus award nominee if it wasn't for...
LB Mark Herzlich—Yes he isn't on the field right now, as he recovers from Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, but that doesn't diminish his importance to this Eagles team.
They've rallied around him and he in turn is their biggest supporter. The potential first round draft pick who came to school for his senior season has been such an inspiration in the college football world, he's been tabbed as the Boston College 2009 Butkus Award nominee.
With Clemson's stunning upset of No. 18 Miami, the Tigers control their own destiny on the road to the ACC championship. If they win out against the rest of their ACC foes—FSU, NC State, and Virginia—they'll be in Tampa on Dec. 5.
The Tigers are 4-3 overall. They've been up and down so far with wins coming mostly off of big plays. There have been a handful of guys who had stud performances, but here are our favorite three:
RB C.J. Spiller—He could be spotted on the Clemson sideline at various points during the Miami game. It probably had something to do with the 310 all purpose yards he accumulated during that game. Other than that, he didn't do much.
Spiller, a senior, has been ridiculous for the whole of his college career. He has been an effective runner, receiver, and return man.
Just halfway into the season he already has 1,145 all purpose yards. Spiller has an ACC championship in his sights and ultimately a fat first-round NFL payday.
S DeAndre McDaniel—You hear the term "all around player" thrown around a lot but when it comes to this junior defensive back. It's no longer a cliche but the truth. He leads the team in both tackles (46) and interceptions (five).
DE Da'Quan Bowers/Ricky Sapp—It's tempting to put another offensive player here like WR Jacoby Ford or RB Andre Ellington, but Bowers and Sapp have been dominant defensive bookends for the Tigers.
They've helped their offense get the ball back and allowed them to win games. Between the two, they have six sacks and 16 tackles for losses. If they keep up the pressure on opposing quarterbacks, McDaniel will greatly increase his INT total.
First of all, let me apologize for the joke on the opening page of this article. But I mean, this is Duke we're talking about.
Nonetheless, they do have a winning record and a better conference record than four other teams (FSU, NC State, North Carolina, and Maryland).
Coach David Cutliffe has done a fine job of building a respectable football program on the ashes of years of inadequacy. Some of those players helping him are:
QB Thaddeus Lewis—The model of consistency over the course of his four year career at Duke, Lewis has thrown for over 8,000 yards. Just this past week he led his squad to a win while throwing for 371 yards and two scores. He is sporting an impressive 144.47 QB rating in 2009, the best he has ever had.
CB Leon Wright—Wright has 31 tackles, but more importantly he's picked off opposing quarterbacks three times, returning two for scores. There's nothing like producing touchdowns on defense.
He's currently Duke's active leader in interceptions and passes broken up and looking to fill his senior year with more.
LB Vincent Rey—Let it be known Duke is winning accolades on the gridiron as well as the hard court. This past week, senior LB Rey was named ACC defensive player of the week for his eight-tackle, one-INT performance in the win over Maryland. That puts the Duke defensive leader at 57 tackles for season.
Is the news of the death of Florida State football and Bobby Bowden's coaching career premature? Ask Butch Davis.
After an incredible 18-point comeback win against the Tar Heels this past week, the Seminoles are flying high despite sporting a 3-4 record.
Bowden described the play of his team afterward as the worst he'd ever seen during his long, long tenure in Tallahassee. Still, it feels like a turning point in what's been a very disappointing season for the scarlet and gold.
Here are three players even Bowden has to admit play well every week:
QB Chris Ponder—Without Chris Ponder, FSU is winless. Bold statement, but for a team so wildly inconsistent and baffling considering its talent level, only a guy like Ponder could hold the fort down while his teammates come back to their senses.
While FSU hasn't scored a ton of points through the passing game, Ponder is completing 70 percent of his passes with a 12/1 TD/INT ratio.
He limits mistakes and puts his guys in good positions. That's all you can really ask from a leader. If FSU manages to learn from their mistakes in 2009, Ponder could really have a great senior year come 2010.
G Rodney Hudson—I really wanted to put a defensive player in one of these three slots for FSU, I really did. But, and I'm not being cheeky here, defense has not been a priority recently for the 'Noles. Defenders are routinely out of position and the tackling has been abysmal.
Therefore, I present one of our FSU writers'nominees, junior guard and preseason All American, Rodney Hudson. Suffice it to say, without an offensive line including Hudson, Ponder couldn't do what he does.
CB/KR-PR Greg Reid—This freshman corner is one of the bright spots on this sub-par Seminoles defense. (I do want to give an honorable mention to Dekoda Watson and his 7.5 sacks.)
Reid has two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, but where his presence has really been felt is on special teams.
Through kick returns and punt returns, he leads the team in all-purpose yardage with 571. Not bad for a guy in his first year. Expect big things in the future for this former high school All-American.
At 7-1, Georgia Tech is in control of the ACC as the conference's best team. There are a number of players worthy of making this list but we only made room for three (kinda).
QB Josh Nesbitt—His passing stats are pedestrian at best, but what Nesbitt doesn't do particularly well through the air he makes up for by bulldozing his way through defenses on the ground.
Listed at 6'1", 215 lbs, Nesbitt plays much bigger than his size and has accounted for over 700 rushing yards and 15 total TD's. It may not be conventional but who cares when you're winning?
RB Jonathan Dwyer—After a dominant season in 2008, where he averaged seven yards a carry and finished with 1,395 yards total, Dwyer came in to 2009 eying a potential Heisman bid.
Unfortunately, he got off to a slow start during the first three games. Then North Carolina came to Atlanta and that was all he needed, ripping the Tar Heels up for 158 yards.
Dwyer hasn't looked back since. Furthermore, paired up with beast of a QB, Georgia Tech is in a great position to run the table in ACC and lock up at least the Orange Bowl at season's end. It will also be interesting to see whether Dwyer comes back for his senior season or elects to leave for the NFL.
DE Derrick Morgan/S Morgan Burnett—I'm cheating here again by naming two players in one spot but it's difficult to single out just one player on this stout defense.
The law firm of Morgan and Morgan has combined for 72 tackles, 11.5 sacks and four interceptions. The Yellow Jackets weren't as dominant at the start of the season as they had been in 2008 but they've rebounded well. Their strong run game and tough defense could very well put them in a BCS bowl at year's end.
Oh Maryland. With only nine returning starters this season, it's hardly a surprise to see the poor performance of this squad to this point. They're 2-6 and don't look like they'll be making any positive strides anytime soon.
It was tempting to list Darrius Heyward-Bey as their best player but he's not even the best receiver on the woeful Oakland Raiders.
WR Torrey Smith—Is it fair to say Smith is the entire Maryland offense? Perhaps not, but he is darn close (although Terps fans have another sophomore to get excited about: RB Davin Meggett).
Smith started every game for the Terps in 2008 as a redshirt freshman and has proven to be an all around gamer in 2009 posting 1,538 all purpose yards through eight games. He's an impressive receiver and kick returner who brings a lot of excitement to an otherwise tough season.
LB Alex Wujciak—An ACC consensus preseason All American, Wujciak has not disappointed. In 2008 he recorded 133 tackles; so far in 2009 he has 88. The best part about this guy? He's a junior. I bet Maryland hopes he comes back for one more go.
LB Adrian Moten—I originally had the Terps senior QB Chris Turner here, but after watching that dreadful loss to Duke, there's no way I could have done that in good conscience.
Moten gets the nod instead as he represents what Maryland is: A team with solid defensive players and an offense that's too sloppy and turnover prone. Moten is a versatile linebacker, who's contributing in the pass rush with five sacks to this point.
Being one of the Miami featured columnists, it's a real task to write about the 'Canes at this moment. The loss to Clemson still stings as it highlighted both the best and worst attributes of Miami's squad.
None of these three players are perfect but they're young and have amazing upside:
QB Jacory Harris—"Just Scory" Harris as I've affectionately called him for two years will have his chance to step up to the podium one day carrying a pimp cup and receive a Heisman trophy; it just won't be this year...and maybe not next year either.
I say this knowing the kind of talent he has, but having watched him since he arrived in Coral Gables, Harris is still raw and inexperienced. He throws way too many interceptions (although he does a dynamite job of bouncing back, but still). The day will come when he puts it all together and makes UM Quarterback U again, but it will take time.
LB Colin McCarthy—With all the talk of Sean Spence, the ACC's Freshman Defensive player of the year in 2009, McCarthy was the somewhat forgotten man. As of late, Spence has picked up his game after virtually disappearing through the first four or five games, but McCarthy has been solid and consistent. He leads the team in tackles with 48 (six of them for losses) and even has an interception.
Honorable mentions go to DT Allen Bailey who's turning into a sack machine and CB Brandon Harris who may be Miami's next shutdown corner.
OT Jason Fox/K Matt Bosher—They're not shiny and they won't be on the cover of SI, but these guys are the oil that keeps the machine running smoothly.
A quick look at Jason Fox's resume will tell it all: One of three team captains, finalist for both the Outland and Lombardi trophies and most importantly, he's started 43 games for Miami in his four year career.
Matt Bosher was a finalist for the Lou Groza award last season as a sophomore and will be again this year as a junior.
He handles both kicking and punting for the U. He's an 81 percent field goal kicker and has never missed an extra point.
The Tar Heels had high hopes in 2009 starting off ranked No. 21 in the AP poll. They were experiencing a football renaissance under new head coach Butch Davis. Their recruiting classes were awarded top honors by national scouts thanks to Davis, a master recruiter.
They're 4-3 now and fading fast. What's gone wrong? Hell I don't know. I'm here to tell you what's gone right. This is a happy article of sorts after all.
RB Shaun Draughn—The best thing Draughn ever did was move from safety to running back in 2008. He's currently North Carolina's all purpose yards leader with 601 as he's been effective running and catching the ball.
RB Ryan Houston—At the start of the season, if asked, this is where I would've placed QB T.J. Yates. As of this writing, coming after North Carolina blew an 18 point lead to FSU, Yates has gone from young and promising to average and disappointing.
His sub-par stats (12 TD, 14 INT) aren't completely his fault. Play calling seems to be an issue and the lack of explosive receivers on the edge is definitely a problem.
So, by default, Draughn's backfield companion and touchdown vulture, Houston, makes this list with his team leading seven rushing touchdowns.
DE Robert Quinn—An impressive freshman campaign lands Quinn on this list. North Carolina does have some studs on defense (contrary to recent results) but Quinn stands out for his production (33 tackles, 11 TFL and 7 sacks) at such an early point in his collegiate career.
The top rated DE coming out of high school is already paying dividends for coach Davis and should continue to do so.
It seems like centuries ago when quarterback Philip Rivers led this team to four consecutive bowl games and shattered every school passing record.
Hard times have fallen on the Wolfpack as of late. Just as an example, NC State is coming off a much needed bye week which they spent licking their wounds after a thrashing by Boston College that showcased running back Montel Harris scoring five touchdowns.
Who will do the heavy lifting and try and turn around this 3-4 season?
QB Russell Wilson—Passing for 1,659 yards, rushing for 249 yards and scoring 19 total touchdowns should count for something right? It seems like Wilson is getting little help these days in winning games.
He's doing his part, but it's time for the other facets of the team to do theirs. At least he's a sophomore who's program should be built around him.
RB Toney Baker—The ball is being spread out fairly well on the offense, but Baker has been the most effective weapon rushing for 401 yards and adding another 227 through the air. He's also scored nine touchdowns and trails only his quarterback in scoring.
DE Willie Young—He's tied for third in tackles (33), but what really makes this senior end stand out are his seven sacks. Putting pressure on the quarterback is what every coach wants his defensive ends to do, and Young is doing his job.
He's also forced two fumbles and broken up two passes. Young is the most experienced player on this Wolfpack team, having seen action on over 1,600 snaps and he's showing what experience can produce on the field.
One of our columnists described Virginia as having a "Jekyll and Hyde" type of team which is producing a similarly characterized season.
Looking deeper into their record of 3-4, with a loss to William & Mary and impressive wins over both North Carolina and Indiana, I would have to agree.
In assessing the team's top performers, it was apparent that defense and field position ruled the day. Is that Jekyll or Hyde?
DE Nate Collins—He was named ACC Defensive Lineman of the week against Maryland two weeks ago as he recorded nine tackles, a sack, and a game winning interception for a touchdown.
Now although it seems like any ACC player wins an award whenever they play Maryland, Collins is the real deal. He's a veritable force in the interior of the Cavaliers' defensive line. He leads the team in sacks (three) and is second in tackles with 47, a fine number for any defensive player not playing linebacker.
CB Ras-I Dowling—He may not be Champ Bailey but the junior Dowling is a reliable corner with good coverage skills. Even better, he's not afraid to lay down the hammer on opposing receivers. He's ranks fourth on the team in tackles with a respectable 37.
P Jimmy Howell—This may an indictment of how lacking Virginia may be in play makers, but if we look at the glass half full, then this is just us highlighting a player who excels in his position; no matter how disrespected that position might be.
For a team that doesn't know if it's going to light it up with 47 or make their kicker their leading scorer with nine, field position can be very important. Howell has a powerful, accurate leg, booming eight punts over 50 yards and sticking the ball 12 times inside the 20.
Note: I've never written this much about a punter in my life.
After winning the ACC in 2008 and beating the Big East champion Cinicinnati Bearcats in the 2009 Orange Bowl, Virginia Tech entered the 2009-10 season riding high and expecting to repeat as ACC champs and perhaps make a run at the national title.
Currently, they're a long shot for both with losses to Alabama and Georgia Tech, but coach Frank Beamer's boys ain't no slouches. This is a formidable team that stomped the Hurricanes in week four and re-asserted themselves as the team to beat.
They've got play makers on both sides of the ball, but none more game ready than our three stars:
QB Tyrod Taylor—He's the running, gunning quarterback that gives defenses fits. This dual threat hasn't posted amazing numbers by any means this season as of this writing, (1,154 yds, nine TD's, three INT's) but it's his leadership that's really most valuable to the Hokies. He's a winner and it looks like he can only get better.
RB Ryan Williams—Williams needs only one more yard to hit the 1,000 mark this season for all-purpose yards. Not a bad showing so far in seven games.
Williams is the workhorse of this V-Tech offense, leading the team in yards and scoring (11 TD). He's strong, he is quick, and he has great speed in the open field. Oh, and by the way, he's a redshirt freshman. We'll be seeing this guy light up the ACC for a while.
LB Cody Grimm—A perennial first class special teamer, Grimm is making his mark this season starting at linebacker for the Hokies. The senior is two tackles shy of the team lead with 57. He has also forced three fumbles and is dependable in pass coverage, breaking up passes at the line of scrimmage and in the open field.
Despite a 4-4 record, don't be fooled, this is not a good team. Their one outstanding win was beating Stanford at home; other than that, they beat ACC whipping boys NC State and Maryland and an FCS team in Elon.
Prior to their most recent loss to Navy, head coach Jim Grobe alerted the entire team no one's job was safe aside from starting QB Riley Skinner. Looks like he'll be making some changes now.
That's not to say they don't have talent. These three players exemplify what Wake Forest football aspires to be as a whole:
QB Riley Skinner—He owns school records for career completion percentage and passing efficiency and he's the winningest starting quarterback in Wake Forest history. Riley Skinner is a darn good college quarterback.
I honestly believe his numbers, as nice as they are (1,949 YDS, 16 TD), could be much higher on a better team. Skinner absolutely needs to stay healthy if the Demon Deacons hope to make it to a fourth consecutive bowl game.
LB Dominique Midgett—Midgett, who has to have one of the most ironic football names ever, paid his dues as a special teamer for years before getting his crack at a starting job. Now as a senior, starting at linebacker, he's making the most of his opportunity by leading the defense in tackles; having thus far recorded 48.
P Shane Popham—I promised myself I wouldn't place another punter on this list but I couldn't help it. There are a few skill players I almost listed here (wide receivers Marshall Williams and freshman Chris Givens, who has a very bright future), but ultimately I wanted to illustrate the oft forgotten side of student athletics, the student part.
This past week Popham was honored as the King Fisher Society student athlete of the week. It's a Wake Forest thing they do and I think it's important. Other recent recipients include long snapper Greg Bechtel and tight end Ben Wooster.
Hey, at least these guys are doing something right as Demon Deacons. Now they just need to apply some of those smarts to the Saturdays.