We’re less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.
Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.
With an influx of youth last year, the Virginia defense struggled a bit. This much is known. But unbeknown to many, the Hoos did manage to turn a corner by late October. The big plays diminished, the games got closer and for the most part, they appeared to be a much more competitive group. It was a defense-wide effort, but it had to start with the incredibly young secondary — most notably, Demetrious Nicholson, who really stepped up in a leadership role.
As a highly-ranked recruit in 2011, this is what Nicholson was always supposed to be. His 5’11, 170-pound frame appears average, but 4.43-second 40-yard dash time is what makes him such a threat. Last season, Nicholson was fifth in the conference with 15 passes broken up, despite zero interceptions. He’ll need to increase that number to be viewed as a more valuable defender, but it doesn’t take away from how important he is at all. Due to the high volume of defended passes, he was targeted less and less over the course of the season — a testament to how much respect opposing offenses started to pay to him, despite only being a sophomore in 2012.
Can he make “the leap” and make an even bigger impact in 2013, though? Nicholson’s 56 tackles were indicative of an effective defender who keeps receivers in front of him. And if you factor in the 15 deflections as would-be tackles, that gets him up to 71 — still an average number for any corner. He’s cut down on the big plays, but as the leader of the secondary, he must make the transition to being a shutdown defender in 2013. Those deflections should be interceptions. And teams should fear throwing near him. If the tackle numbers go down but the takeaways increase, it’s still an enormous improvement.
And that’s not to deride Nicholson’s efforts to this point, either. He’s got a reputation as a smart corner who makes adjustments as the game wears on and can prevent big plays without a ton of help from the safety position. That’s fine for a sophomore, but as a junior, he has to be better. The Hoos have a ton of question marks on this team, so it’s up to him to at least try and remove one of them this fall.