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The ACC’s Top 15 Heisman Candidates for 2015

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

There have been 78 Heisman Trophies given out to 77 different players and only three times has the award gone to an ACC representative. On each of those occasions, a Florida State quarterback was the recipient — Charlie Ward in 1993, Chris Weinke in 2000, and Jameis Winston in 2013.

As a result, many analysts may be looking elsewhere for 2015 Heisman contenders. But for quite some time, quarterbacks have been the featured guests at the Downtown Athletic Club in New York City on the second Saturday in December and the ACC is deep in returning talent at that position.

Here are the ACC products with Heisman aspirations this fall.

1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Unquestionably, Watson is the ACC Heisman front-runner heading into the season. He seemed to have total command of the offense as a true freshman and he should only improve in year two. With targets like Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, and running back Wayne Gallman keeping defenses honest, the Gainesville, Ga., native should put up huge numbers in 2015. His style of play should produce some memorable moments and he has marquee games against Notre Dame and Florida State where he can grab the nation’s attention. Staying healthy after an ACL tear is Watson’s biggest concern.

Related: 10 First-Year Starting QBs Who Could Win College Football's National Title in 2015

2. James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

The junior from Erie, Pa., was nowhere to be found in the 2014 Heisman balloting, but he had a monster season. Conner was seventh in the nation with 1,765 yards and his 26 rushing touchdowns broke the Pittsburgh record previously held by Tony Dorsett. He was named ACC Player of the Year and was selected as a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association. His stats did dip a bit in the final three games and new coach Pat Narduzzi must attempt to keep him fresh for Pitt’s tough November stretch.

3. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami

All of the other quarterbacks on this list won more games than the sophomore from West Hills, Ca. But Kaaya is the quarterback at Miami. If he can improve on his record-setting freshman season and bring the Hurricanes back into the national spotlight, he will garner publicity that players at most other schools won’t. Miami has very little coming back on offense besides Kaaya and that certainly will not help his chances.

4. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech

Paul Johnson needs a special type of quarterback to operate his offense. That player needs to be able to run and make quick decisions. Take a quarterback that can do both of those things and throw a little bit too, and you have Thomas. During his sophomore season, Thomas threw for 1,719 yards and 18 scores while running for 1,086 yards and eight more touchdowns, leading the Yellow Jackets to the Orange Bowl. Like Kaaya, Thomas may be asked to do even more this season because Georgia Tech loses all of its offensive skill position starters from 2014.

5. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State

Based entirely on what players can do on the field, Cook would probably rank second or third on this list. The Miami product was huge down the stretch, rushing for 592 yards in the Seminoles’ last five games including his 177-yard, MVP performance in the conference championship game against Georgia Tech. But the well-documented assault charge hovers over Cook and the Noles. At the moment, it is impossible to know Cook’s status with Florida State. When a ruling is made he may jump up on this list…..or be off of it completely.

6. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina

Last fall, Williams was one of only three Power 5 quarterbacks to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for north of 750 yards. He is also one of four returning FBS quarterbacks that threw for at least 20 touchdowns and ran for 10 or more. He has most all of his friends back on offense as well.

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7. Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State

About 30 miles east of the UNC campus resides another dangerous dual-threat quarterback. Last year the Florida transfer had his best performances in two of the biggest games, passing for 359 yards and three TDs in the loss to Florida State and throwing for three scores and rushing for 167 yards against the Tar Heels.

8. Everett Golson, QB, Florida State

According to Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher, Golson is currently third on the FSU depth chart. That won’t last. Yes, he turned the ball over again and again and again at Notre Dame last fall. But halfway through the year he was getting mentioned as a possible Heisman ceremony invitee. And he most likely will be the quarterback at FSU, the school and position that has produced all three ACC Heisman winners.

9. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh

As James Conner’s rushing numbers slipped late in the 2014 season, Boyd’s production spiked. The league’s top returning pass catcher eclipsed 100 yards receiving in five of the Panthers’ final six games. Boyd, Conner and the rest of the Panthers will accomplish their goals only if quarterback Chad Voytik can take his game to another level.

10. Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State

An offensive skill position player is going to win the Heisman. But Ramsey is a special defender that deserves mention. Last season, Ramsey was an All-American as a big, physical, rangy safety. This year, he will be an All-American as a cornerback. He’s as complete a defender as you will find in the college game.

11. Mike Williams, WR, Clemson

The Tiger receiver is a dynamic playmaker. But if he puts up numbers worthy of Heisman consideration, so will Dashaun Watson.

12. Artavis Scott, WR, Clemson

See above.

13. Jon Hilliman, RB, Boston College

Hilliman was very productive as a freshman and had a knack for finding the end zone.

14. Shadrach Thornton, RB, NC State

The back from Hinesville, Ga., had 907 yards rushing, with 367 of those coming in the final three games.

15. Quin Blanding, S, Virginia

Blanding was 21st in the country with 123 tackles. Looking at the Cavaliers’ offense, Blanding will be on the field a lot. Looking at the Cavaliers’ front seven on defense, Blanding will be making even more tackles this year.

— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.