Top 25 player countdown: No. 24

No. 24. Merrill "Bud" Noel, CB, Wake Forest

2011 stats: He started all 13 games and finished the season tied for the national lead in passes defended with 21, including two interceptions and a school-record 19 pass breakups. He finished third on the team with 66 tackles, including a team-best 54 solo stops. He was also the team’s second-leading kick returner with 13 for 233 yards.

Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Noel: He was named the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year after last year’s outstanding season as a redshirt freshman. His 21 passes defended were the most by an NCAA freshman since the organization started tracking the statistic in 2000. He has good awareness, quick feet, and is a strong tackler. Noel hasn’t reached his potential yet, and he is yet another cornerback on the Deacs’ roster who hails from Pahokee High in Florida, much like former Deac Alphonso Smith. He's savvy like Smith was, has a great feel for the game and tremendous instincts, but he's actually more physical that Smith was. Once he masters the art of actually catching the ball, not just getting a hand on it, look out.

No. 25 Nikita Whitlock, NG, Wake Forest