Boyd has ACC Player of the Year locked up

No matter what North Carolina’s Giovani Bernard does Saturday vs. Maryland, Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd is the ACC’s Player of the Year.

Boyd moved into the lead with some amazingly productive performances earlier in the month and sealed the deal last Saturday, accounting for an ACC-record eight touchdowns in the Tigers’ 62-48 victory over North Carolina State. The previous mark was six by several players, including Boyd.

In fact, the junior signal caller tied that mark two weeks earlier in a 56-20 rout at Duke. It was part of a string of performances rivaled by few players in ACC history culminating with Saturday’s watershed afternoon.

Boyd has passed for nearly 1,500 yards in No. 12 Clemson’s last four contests. In that span, he’s also tossed 18 touchdown passes and run for four, giving him an edge over Bernard.

A redshirt sophomore, who ran for 1,253 yards last season, Bernard has certainly been outstanding. In particular, his 262-yard rushing performance against Virginia Tech and 303 all-purpose yards, which included a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown with 13 seconds remaining, to beat N.C. State have highlighted his season.

Bernard, however, is affected in that he was injured in the opener and missed the next two games. He also had only two carries in a rout of Idaho, and after five games the Florida native had just 29 rushing attempts. Even still, Bernard has rushed for 1,065 yards – averaging 6.8 yards per attempt – and has caught 42 passes for 458 yards. He has also scored 18 touchdowns, including two on punt returns and five on pass receptions.

With a big game versus the Terrapins this weekend, Bernard would normally be a worthy player of the year. But Boyd’s season has been more spectacular and he’s guiding a top-10 club.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt Tajh Boyd is the difference in this team,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “He’s a much better quarterback than he was at this time last year. He was a good player last year, but he wasn’t a great quarterback. He’s a much better quarterback. That’s one of the main reasons we’re 10-1.”

Boyd is second in the ACC averaging 306 yards passing per contest; three yards per-game behind N.C. State’s Mike Glennon. But Boyd has completed 68 percent of his pass attempts compared to 57 percent for Glennon. Boyd’s figures – 3,367 yards and 33 touchdown passes – are among the top totals for ACC quarterbacks that have won the league’s top individual honor.

The only more prolific passers to win the award were Boston College’s Matt Ryan in 2007 (4,507 yards) and N.C. State’s Philip Rivers in 2003 (4,491 yards).

Twelve quarterbacks have been so honored since 1990. Two have won the Heisman Trophy in those seasons – Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1993 and Chris Weinke in 2000. And some others, including Virginia’s Matt Schaub, Georgia Tech’s Joe Hamilton, who finished second in the Heisman voting in 1999, and Virginia’s Shawn Moore, who was fourth in the Heisman balloting in 1990, posted numbers similar to Boyd’s given their eras.

Hamilton and Moore were also accomplished scramblers. Boyd, who lost around 12 pounds in the offseason, improved his quickness just enough to become a legitimate threat with his feet.

Not only is he technically executing the role of quarterback by staying in the pocket and not adlibbing as quickly on plays as he did a year ago, which Swinney ways was a point of emphasis in the spring and summer, but Boyd has also finally learned to trust his legs. Hence, he’s even more dangerous than earlier in the season, courtesy of his growing confidence.

The Virginia Beach native has run for 466 yards and eight scores, and with a subpar game this weekend at home versus hated rival South Carolina, Boyd likely will still finish the regular season with more than 4,000 total yards.

Boyd’s new weapon has helped him hit on more long pass plays because defenses are respecting his legs more. In fact, he has connected on 54 percent of his passes of 21 or more yards, a reason he has passed the 300-yard passing mark in six games thus far. In dispatching the Wolfpack, Boyd ran for 103 yards, passing the century mark for the first time in his college career.

“I’m so excited to get a win,” Boyd said, “but the 100 yards rushing is probably my most proud moment.”

Boyd has two more opportunities this season to have proud moments, and maybe he will return next fall to deliver Tigers fans more thrills. No matter what, though, he will be the season’s ACC Player of the Year.