The ACC's 2011 offensive and overall player of the year and the league's defensive player of the year are both leaving school early for the NFL, and that's only the beginning.
Virginia Tech running back David Wilson and Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly, who were voted the top players of 2010, are leading a group of talented players who have decided to forgo their senior seasons of eligibility. Miami running back Lamar Miller (skipping his final two seasons of eligibility), Virginia Tech cornerback Jayron Hosley and Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen have decided to join them. In a surprising twist, Georgia Tech receiver Stephen Hill, who might go undrafted, has also decided to leave school early. Overall, Miami might be hit the hardest by the early departures, as a total of eight starters from last year's roster have decided to enter the NFL.
It's adding up quickly, and could have an impact on the 2012 race.
While it's good for the ACC to have strong representation in the NFL draft -- especially in the first and second rounds -- these players will be missed next year. Most of these decisions weren't surprises, and when you're a likely first-round draft pick like Kuechly, it should be a no-brainer to move on. There's no fault or blame in these personal decisions by any means, but it would have been nice to see what Miami's Miller could do in another season, and whether he and Wilson could make a run for the Heisman Trophy.
In order to compete with the best, the ACC must have its best on the field. Boston College isn't going to "replace" Kuechly or "fill his shoes." He's one of a kind, and became one of the league's most recognizable players. And Virginia Tech will go through some growing pains with a reconstructed offensive line and an inexperienced group of running backs. Miami must rebuild under Al Golden.
The ACC recruits well enough that there will be more stars in 2012, more players who will make names for themselves and have breakout seasons. There always seems to be another talented running back hiding in the wings at Virginia Tech, and Clemson and Miami consistently lure in some of the nation's best recruits.
Unfortunately for the ACC, though, it also just lost some of its best to the NFL.