Sophomore QB Watson, Clemson tabbed as preseason ACC favorites

The Clemson Tigers are looking for their first ACC title since 2011.

Joshua S. Kelly/Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

The Clemson Tigers lost major pieces from last season’s 10-win team, but the media tabbed Dabo Swinney’s team to win its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship since 2011.

A poll of 158 media members in attendance at the ACC Kickoff tabbed the Tigers (84 first-place votes), led by preseason ACC Player of the Year favorite Deshaun Watson, as the conference’s top team.

Defending champion Florida State earned the second-most first-place votes (41), while reigning Orange Bowl champion Georgia Tech was picked to defend its Coastal Division title.

"I don’t really have a lot of thoughts on it, to be honest with you," Swinney said about being named ACC favorites. "I never really get caught up in the preseason type stuff. I appreciate people having respect for our program and our players. But really it’s about performance. Hopefully when it’s all said and done in December we can get the job done and make those people who voted for us look smart. We are looking for it. We have a lot of people to replace and I love our roster."

Watson earned 69 votes for ACC Player of the Year, beating out prolific Pittsburgh running back James Connor, the 2014 winner, and Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas.

The list was rounded out by Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya, North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams, Virginia Tech cornerback Kendall Fuller, Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd and NC State QB Jacoby Brissett.

Clemson posted a 10-3 record and won the Russell Athletic Bowl last season, but will need to replace NFL-caliber talent like All-ACC pass rusher Vic Beasley and defensive tackle Grady Jarrett. Watson’s return should help. The rising sophomore dominated as a true freshman, when healthy, combining for more than 1,500 total yards and 19 touchdowns in limited action. The dual-threat QB is recovering from ACL surgery, but his teammates and coaches remain optimistic that he’ll be able to lead them in 2015.

"He’s as advertised. For him to be preseason player of the year for you guys is based on what you’ve seen. But he’s beyond that," Swinney said of Watson. "What you know is that he’s only been in college for a year. And what you don’t know is who he is. He’s one of the smartest players I’ve been around. I haven’t been around many seniors who possess the football I.Q. that he has. Can’t wait to get him back on the field. When he’s out there, we’ve got a chance each play for something special to happen."