The ACC has won two Heisman Trophies. Ever.
Florida State has provided both awards to the league when quarterbacks Chris Weinke won the award in 2000 and Charlie Ward took home the stiff-armed trophy in 1993. Both quarterbacks also have National Championship rings on their fingers as well.
Needless to say, the ACC is lagging behind the rest of big-time college football when it comes to the most prestigious award in sports. Miami and Boston College do have Heismans sitting in their trophy cases but those — Vinny Testaverde, Doug Flutie and Gino Torretta — all took place in the Big East Conference. And C.J. Spiller in 2006 was the last ACC player to even crack the top 10 in the voting.
So could 2013 break the 12-year Heisman drought in the ACC? It’s certainly possible as more than one elite player has a chance to represent the league in New York come December.
Here are the ACC’s top Heisman candidates for 2013 (complete with current Vegas odds):
1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson (16/1)
Few players posted numbers comparable to Johnny Heisman, but Boyd was one of them. He led the ACC in passing efficiency (165.59) and total offense (339.2 ypg) and was fifth and seventh in each category nationally. He scored 46 total touchdowns (36 pass, 10 rush) and has a host of elite weapons returning. More importantly, this team should be the preseason favorite in the ACC with Boyd under center and Chad Morris calling the plays. He is one of few players who will have the numbers, the marquee showdowns (vs. Georgia, at South Carolina), the potential championship and the offensive support to win the Heisman.
2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami (14/1)
The De’Anthony Thomas of the East Coast, Johnson led the ACC in kickoff returns and was third in all-purpose running as just a freshman. As the season went on, Al Golden trusted Johnson more on offense and he topped 100 yards three times in his last four games. The key will be his role in 2013 as Golden looks to get him more involved in the traditional offense. He could see a big jump from 139 carries a year ago, and should that happen, fans can bet the sophomore speedster's numbers will be eye-popping.
3. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (--)
When it comes to raw upside and physical talent, Watkins is second to none nationally. But staying healthy and focused has been an issue for the electric playmaker, causing him to miss four games in his first two years. With DeAndre Hopkins off to the NFL and his quarterback Boyd returning, the sky could be the limit for the star wideout. Consistency will be the name of the game for the junior-to-be.
4. Logan Thomas, QB, Virginia Tech (--)
Many people were massively disappointed by the 260-pound quarterback in 2012. He rallied the Hokies late and the offense should be improved in 2013 under new coordinator Scott Loeffler, but Thomas needs to show more growth as a passer (18 TD, 16 INT) to get to New York. The good news is he did run the ball more effectively and threw it with more accuracy as a sophomore than he did as a junior. A return to 2011 will get Thomas back in the mix.
5. Stephen Morris, QB, Miami (25/1)
The Canes quarterback blossomed as a junior in 2012. Morris set a Miami single-season total offense record (3,415) as well as the ACC’s all-time single-game record with 566 yards against NC State. In fact, he threw for over 1,000 yards (1,002) over a two-game span to finish the month of September. He proved to be dependable as well, tossing just seven interceptions in a school-record 421 attempts. With the youth developing around him and the running game improving, the Hurricanes gunslinger is poised for a big senior season this fall.
6. Stefon Diggs, WR, Maryland (40/1)
This dynamic, explosive all-purpose talent can do a little bit of everything. As just a true freshman, he is the leading returning all-purpose “runner” in the ACC at 172.4 yards per game and a sick 15.7 yards per play. He ran the ball 20 times for 114 yards. He caught 54 passes for 848 yards. He returned 22 punts for 221 yards. And he returned 25 kicks for 713 yards. He could easily double his eight total touchdowns from a year ago and that would put him squarely in Player of the Year contention.
7. Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina (--)
Playing in Larry Fedora’s high-flying offensive scheme will give Renner a chance to compete for the nation’s top honor. He lost plenty of talent to the NFL (Gio Bernard, Jonathan Cooper) but also has tons of future draft picks returning. He trails only Boyd as the ACC’s most efficient returning starter as he tossed just seven interceptions and completed 65.4-percent of his passes a year ago (422 att.). He won’t add much to the running game so he will have to post huge numbers through the air — and likely win the Coastal Division — to get Heisman consideration. But after 3,356 yards, 28 TDs and a co-division title a year ago, that isn’t far fetched at all.
8. Jameis Winston, QB, Florida State (--)
The raw talent and pure athletic ability of Winston has fans in Tallahassee raving about their future signal-caller. He has a huge arm, elite size, above-average mobility and the poise of an upperclassman. If his offensive line and running game can give him some help, Winston could easily lead his team to an ACC title and complete for Player of the Year honors.
9. Vad Lee, QB, Georgia Tech (--)
Lee is the next in line to pilot Paul Johnson’s triple option attack. Like Josh Nesbitt and Tevin Washington before him, Lee’s physicality and athletic ability are a perfect match for the Yellow Jackets’ offensive scheme. Lee saw his playing time steadily increase last season, as Johnson got more comfortable going to the sophomore. He got 19 carries and threw nine passes in the first six games, but carried 77 times for 358 yards and six touchdowns while throwing 47 times over the final eight games of the year. His playing time last year should help the 6-foot-1, 215-pound junior-to-be immensely as he takes over as the leader of the Ramblin’ Wreck in '13.
10. Jerome Smith, RB, Syracuse (--)
In his first year as the starter, Smith delivered admirably with 1,171 yards on 227 carries. The 220-pounder came on strong in the second half as well, posting five 100-yard efforts and all three touchdowns in the season’s final seven games. Look for a new coaching staff and new quarterback to lean on Smith early and often in 2013.
11. Kevin Parks, RB, Virginia (--)
The short but powerful running back is finally looking at a full-time work load for the Cavaliers. And with Steve Fairchild now calling the plays, Parks could be in for a huge season. The powerful little back is great between the tackles and, despite splitting time his first two years, has had plenty of success around the goal line (15 career TD).
12. James Wilder Jr., RB, Florida State (--)
The Noles tailback was one of the most highly touted prospects in the nation a few years ago and 2013 is his time to shine. He is an extremely gifted and physical player who is at his best between the tackles and around the goal line — as his 11 touchdowns last year indicate. He only gets better with a heavy workload and could become a star as a junior. He could easily be Winston’s best friend early in the season as Jimbo Fisher breaks in his new quarterback.
Best of the Rest:
13. Tanner Price, QB, Wake Forest
14. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
15. James Hurst, OL, North Carolina
16. David Sims, RB, Georgia Tech
17. Roderick McDowell, RB, Clemson
18. Rashad Greene, WR, Florida State
19. Quinshad Davis, WR, North Carolina
20. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest
Five Defensive Players to Watch:
Christian Jones, LB, Florida State
Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
James Gayle, DE, Virginia Tech
Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State
Kareem Martin, DE, North Carolina
Prep for the 2013 season on Twitter @AthlonSports
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