As a member of the youngest offensive line in the country (3 freshmen, 2 sophomores), Andrew Datko wildly exceeded expectations and earned Freshman All-America honors. Competing at a slight 267lbs, with a dislocated elbow and various shoulder ailments, Datko surprised everyone playing 852 snaps over 13 games, more than any freshman on the line. He also had a top-two overall grade three times received either the top grade or the second-best grade in run or pass blocking seven times. Datko also recorded 20 knockdowns. Was named the top offensive newcomer and won the freshman academic award. And he did so while playing in the best defensive conference in the country (no conference sends more top defensive players than the NFL than the ACC) and against UF. With Datko's help, the 'Noles led the ACC in scoring and Florida State head coach in waiting/ offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher won ACC offensive coordinator of the year.
This year Datko will face an even tougher challenge- the most difficult gauntlet of pass rushers in recent college football memory.
The Hurricanes were one of the youngest teams in college football last year, and they got even younger when their senior defensive end Eric Moncur went down with an injury in the 3rd game of the season. Moncur was a 4* recruit, the #10 overall defensive end in the country. He's projected to be a 1st day NFL draft choice (2nd or 3rd round) This year, he's back at 6'2" 260lbs and with 16 starts and 105 total tackles in his three years, should continue to be a quality player for the canes.
On the other side, Marcus Robinson started 5 games after making the switch from OLB to DE and had 9 tackles for loss and 4 sacks while earning 3rd team Frosh All-America honors. No matter which lines up over Datko, Florida State's left tackle will sure have a challenge on his hands.
While the BYU Cougars aren't known for their defensive talent, they do have an excellent defensive end in Jan Jorgenson. At 6-3 262lbs, Jorgensen plays the "5" technique end in BYU's 3-4 defensive scheme.
Jorgensen projects as a late 1st or early 2nd round draft choice. The senior has had quite the career. Jorgensen has been named 1st team All-Mountain West Defense for two years in a row. He is the conference's career leader in sacks already. He's a Lombardi and Hendricks award finalist. Oh, and he is 26 years old after serving a three year Mormon mission and redshirting his freshman year. The recent word is that he dropped 15lbs down to 245 in order to be quicker.
If you were alive in 2007, you probably heard of USF's sackmaster George Selvie.
Selvie burst onto the scene in 2007 in a huge way, registering an incredible 31.5 tackles for loss and earning not only all-conference offers, but 1st team All-America status!
Selvie continued to play well in 2008, though not quite as well as he did in 2007. Why? It was a combination of nagging lower leg injuries and playing from behind (hard to get sacks when the other team is running out the clock). Despite the injuries, the 6'4" 255lb Selvie still made 1st Team Big East. He is back for his senior season and has said that he expects to be the top defensive end selected in the upcoming NFL draft. He's also been named to the 1st Team Pre-season All-America Squad. Florida State must stay out of 3rd and long in this game and give Datko help in the form of a tight end or a back. Asking Andrew to single Selvie all game could be disastrous and unfair to the true sophomore.
While the Eagles are one of the teams on the schedule without a likely 1st day NFL pick at defensive end, they do boast three seniors with a combined 58 starts in Jim Ramella, Alex Albright, and Austin Giles. These guys have been there forever and really know how to play the game (that's a cop-out, I know, but they aren't great athletes or pro prospects).
While not draft eligible, Sophomore Robert Quinn has shown a lot of promise after coming back from brain cancer.
Quinn started 12 games for the Tarheels and should have a monster season for the baby blue, particularly since he'll be able to workout fully for the first time in a while.
The Wolfpack feature another edge rushing terror on this list in Willie Young Jr. Last year, Young destroyed the 'Noles, with 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and drawing at least one holding penalty.
At 6'4 and 251lbs, Young is extra quick and as a senior will have a variety of pass moves. Last year he started 11 games (injured other 2), registering 55 tackles (13 for loss), with 6 1/2 sacks. Young was named to Phil Steele's 2nd Team Pre-Season ACC defense. Like many of these edge rushers, the key will be to run right at Young as he was especially good on 3rd and long last year (as most defensive ends should be).
The Tigers boast two of the best defensive ends in the conference in Ricky Sapp and Da'Quan Bowers. Both were elite Five-star recruits coming out of high school and both have continued to perform at the next level.
Last year, Sapp and Bowers had their collective way with the young 'Nole offensive tackles, registering two sacks and numerous pressures. It got to a point where FSU completely abandoned the dropback passing game, throwing only screen or play action passes.
This year both Bowers and Sapp are back. Bowers has reportedly put in a nice offseason of work and is probably the top true sophomore defensive end in the nation. Last year as a true freshman, Bowers started 6 games, played in all 13, and registered 50 tackles (8 for loss). He really came on in the later games. Sapp actually had some knee issues and missed the spring, though he'll be fully healthy for the 'Noles. Last year, he started 9 games (knee injury) and had 10 tackles for loss. He was also excellent in 2007, with 22 tackles for loss and 6 sacks. Whoever Datko faces here will be a challenge for the young tackle.
The Deac's don't have an elite player at defensive end.
The Terps don't have an elite player at defensive end.
The Gators have a bevy of elite edge players and it's safe to say that three of their defensive ends would compete for starting jobs on any team in the country. For purposes of this piece, however, let's leave Justin Trattou aside for a minute and focus on Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham.
Dunlap (pictured) is on everyone's pre-season All-America team. He was the top defensive end prospect in his class coming out of high school. As a sophomore, he started only two games, but registered 39 tackles and 9.5 sacks, leading the SEC and making 2nd Team SEC. He's 6'6" 290lbs, and universally seen as the best defensive end prospect in college.
They also have Jermaine Cunningham who also made 2nd team SEC last season. Cunningham, at 6-3, 252lbs has started 25 games over the past two seasons registering over 100 tackles (20 for loss).
This schedule presents an enormous challenge for Florida State left tackle Andrew Datko. No offensive lineman in the country has a more difficult challenge than FSU's Datko. At a ripped 292 lbs, with a year of starting experience under his belt, Datko has a fighting chance to make it through the schedule, now that he has some bulk and experience to go with his always solid technique.