ACC has several Heisman Trophy candidates

ACC has several Heisman Trophy candidates

Published Aug. 13, 2012 3:13 p.m. ET

If this is the year of the quarterback in the ACC — 11 of 12 starters return from last season — then it would make sense that the league boasts a few Heisman Trophy contenders.

Heisman winners don’t often come out of the conference, which is known more for its basketball success, but it is desperately trying to build its football image. Charlie Ward (1993) and Chris Weinke (1999), both from Florida State, are the only two ACC players to win the trophy, though the conference’s 12 members have had a combined five recipients. Miami has two and Boston College the other.

This fall a sixth ACC Heisman winner could be added to the list, although the front-runner appears to be Southern California quarterback Matt Barkley. But it’s not uncommon for Heisman winners to come from out of nowhere to win the award or for players considered second- or third-tier candidates in August to emerge holding what is perhaps the most prestigious and debated honor in American sports.

Just last season, Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck entered the campaign as seemingly a lock to win the award, but instead it went to Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, who wasn’t even on most second-tier lists before the season began.

For this season, Athlon’s preseason magazine mentioned 22 players as possible candidates, including Virginia Tech quarterback Logan Thomas and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins.

CBS lists Boyd and Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel among its top 10 contenders, while mentioning Thomas as one of its 10 players also in the running. lists 51 players on 5Dimes’ odds board in Las Vegas, among them six from the ACC. In addition to the four players already mentioned, it includes North Carolina tailback Gio Bernard and quarterback Bryn Renner.

The most likely candidate from the ACC is Manuel, because his team has the best chance of being nationally relevant, and, if healthy, he should post spectacular numbers.

Last season, despite missing time with an injury, Manuel passed for 2,666 yards and 18 touchdown passes and ran for four TDs. The senior’s leadership, how he plays late in close games, and whether he can produce a couple of monster performances (not against the two FCS teams on the Seminoles’ slate) will go a long way toward building his campaign. Of course, FSU might need to go into mid-November as a national title contender, too.

The next possibility from the ACC is Thomas, who at 6 feet 6 and 254 pounds already in most mock drafts' top 10 for next April.

A redshirt junior, Thomas passed for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns last season. He also ran for 469 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was the Hokies’ short-yardage go-to guy, something rare among Heisman-hopeful quarterbacks.  

Thomas needs the Hokies to contend for a national title and to be more prolific as an offensive unit than they have been in recent years. Beating ho-hum nonconference teams 27-3 isn’t going to cut it for Thomas.

Clemson’s Boyd, a redshirt junior, has the most weapons around him, making him a candidate to keep an eye on. He passed for 3,828 yards and 33 touchdowns last season. With Watkins suspended for the Tigers' first two games — including the opener against Auburn — he has an opportunity to really impress the voters by posting huge numbers without one of the best skill position players in the nation.

The Tigers don’t need to compete for a national title. They could have the kind of season Baylor had a year ago (three losses) while keeping Boyd in the picture because Clemson’s prolific offense should garner news, much like Baylor’s did last fall.

Watkins' suspension stems from a spring arrest that resulted in him being charged with three citations. Sitting out against Auburn and Ball State will cost Watkins a high-profile game on the national stage and one in which he would have loaded up on stats.

So, with just 10 regular season games and a recent run-in with the law, Watkins (82 receptions, 1,219 yards, 12 touchdown receptions, 232 yards rushing and a 25-yard average and a touchdown on 33 kickoff returns) seems like a longer shot than some of his preseason placements.   

UNC’s Bernard is one of the fastest and shiftiest tailbacks in the nation. The redshirt sophomore is explosive, can break tackles and is as good as gone when he gets into the open field. Bernard ran for 1,253 yards with 13 touchdowns and had 45 receptions last season.

The Florida native needs the Tar Heels to approach 10 victories and for voters not to hold UNC’s NCAA bowl ban and probation against him.