CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Youth is being served in the Atlantic Coast Conference — and it’s a trend that’s surely to continue.
Throughout the league, teams are counting on highly regarded, talented playmakers to take charge, no matter how little experience they have.
“More teams are getting more young guys who are ready to play,” said former Oklahoma nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek, a current ESPN college analyst.
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott couldn’t imagine cracking the Tigers lineup when he arrived on campus as a wide-eyed, skinny receiver 16 years ago. These days, he’s game-planning an offense that features poised freshmen in quarterback Trevor Lawrence and receiver Justyn Ross.
Lawrence has performed so well the Tigers have named him their starter, replacing senior Kelly Bryant, who the school announced Wednesday has decided to transfer.
Several ACC teams are lining up young players who are making an impact:
— Wake Forest has turned to freshman quarterback Sam Hartman, who’s third in ACC passing yardage so far this season.
— Syracuse freshman safety Andre Cisco leads the ACC in interceptions and is second in passes defended.
— Kickers Andre Szmyt of Syracuse, Christopher Dunn of North Carolina State and Nick Sciba of Wake Forest — all freshmen — are 1-2-3 in ACC scoring.
“There’s a lot more carry over from high school to football,” Dvoracek said.
Nowhere is that more apparent than at Clemson, where the 6-foot-6 Lawrence will make his first college start against Syracuse on Saturday.
Lawrence is not alone in making a quick impact. Ross, a 6-foot-4 receiver who was the top prospect from Alabama last year, caught touchdown passes of 57 and 53 yards from Lawrence already this season.
“If somebody gets hot, we’ve got to go with the hot-hand guy,” said Syracuse’s Dino Babers, echoing the belief of several college coaches.
Hartman was the Demon Deacons’ choice out of fall camp with expected starter Kendall Hinton out with a three-game suspension. When Hinton returned last week, Hartman remained behind center while Hinton played receiver in a loss to Notre Dame.
Hartman is third in ACC with 944 yards passing and has six TDs and five interceptions.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has done this before, using true freshman John Wolford at quarterback in 2014.
“This is both a short term and a long-term project,” Clawson said of Hartman’s development.
Virginia freshman Jordan Redmond is anchoring the Cavaliers defensive line as their starting nose tackle while fellow first-year lineman Aaron Faumui is getting playing time at end.
Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall knows the two continue adjusting to the college game but said, “they’re both capable.”
Lawrence and the Tigers should be tested against Syracuse as Cisco has four interceptions in four games for the Orange.
Around the league, youth is a common thread.
At Miami, coach Mark Richt is pondering whether freshman quarterback N’Kosi Perry or longtime starter Malik Rosier should open against North Carolina this weekend.
On Florida State’s two-deep depth chart, 23 of 44 players are underclassmen with nine of those being starters.
Georgia Tech plays three freshmen starters in running back Jordan Mason, left tackle Zach Quinney and cornerback Tre Swelling.
Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson understands the difficulty of relying on young players at most spots, particularly at quarterback.
“If they’re not special, it’s going to be a struggle,” he said.
Elliott, the Tigers game-caller, remembered how unprepared he was for college ball compared to today’s players. Elliott played three sports at James Island High in Charleston and had little time for serious weightlifting or learning the finer points of a pro-style offense.
The players Elliott scouts today, however, spend hours in the weight room, break down reels of film and drill constantly to perfect their technique to be ready for the next level.
“It’s a different mindset,” Elliott said.
The best players now enter high school with the plan to leave early, piling up the credits to enroll in college in time to take part in offseason workouts and spring football before they ever play a game, said Dvoracek, who played as a Sooner freshman
Instead of just a few weeks to adjust like players of the past, today’s freshmen get months of working at their new complexes.
“It just makes sense that they’re going to be more prepared” to contribute, he said.
Also, the NFL clock starts running on the best players the instant they step on campus. Those with pro potential are counting down when their three years of eligibility end. Coaches must weigh rookie mistakes against missing a year of contributions from a big-time performer.
“If you don’t” play the youngsters, Dvoracek said, “you risk losing a year of a talented player. ‘If he’s a three-year guy, we better play him right away.’
“That’s what coaches have to consider.”
And it’s clear which direction many have decided to take.
AP Sports Writers Hank Kurz in Richmond, Virginia; John Kekis is Syracuse, New York; Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, North Carolina; and George Henry in Atlanta, Georgia contributed to this article.
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