The ACC is just two years removed from one of its players hoisting the Heisman Trophy, as former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston won the award in 2013. With no shortage of strong signal-callers in the league this fall, the ACC could see several different players vie for the honor with strong 2015 seasons.
Here are the top candidates:
1. QB Deshaun Watson, Clemson. The preseason ACC player of the year showed what he was capable of in limited action last season, completing better than 67 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions, while rushing for 200 yards and another five scores. Of course, Watson played in only eight games in 2014 as a true freshman, and started in only five, so his recovery from ACL surgery — which followed shoulder and hand injuries, respectively — will be a huge storyline. Playing behind four new starters on the offensive line won't make things easy, either.
2. RB James Conner, Pitt. Watson might be the preseason league player of the year, but Conner is the guy who actually won the award last year as a sophomore, after churning out 1,765 yards and an ACC-record 26 touchdowns. The Panthers return enough offensive pieces to make a repeat run possible for Conner. But he'll have to combat recent running back history to win the Heisman, which has gone to QBs in eight of the past nine years.
3. QB Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech. Thomas burst onto the national scene last year as he led the Yellow Jackets to an 11-win season that was capped by an Orange Bowl domination of Mississippi State. Georgia Tech's offense isn't exactly conducive to some of the highlights we're used to seeing from big-time QBs, but Thomas has already shown that he is capable of blowing by defenders and leaving them gasping for air. His passing numbers -- better than 51 percent last season for 1,719 yards and 18 TDs with six picks -- won't stack up with other candidates, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a QB as dynamic on the ground, as Thomas rushed for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014. A repeat performance for the preseason Coastal division favorite will have many more people paying attention this season.
4. QB Everett Golson, Florida State. The redshirt senior likely presents the widest range of possibilities among the ACC's Heisman candidates. Less than a year ago, Golson led No. 5 Notre Dame to a 6-0 record, going blow-for-blow with Winston in an instant classic in Tallahassee, putting himself right in the middle of the Heisman discussion. Of course, turnovers crushed Golson from that point on, leading to his eventual seeking of a new destination. That destination, of course, is FSU, where Jimbo Fisher has turned each of his past three starting QBs into first-round NFL draft picks, and where Fisher has recruited better than anyone in the league. When you mix Fisher, a QB with title-game experience (2012) and a loaded roster, the potential is remarkable. Then again, as we saw down the stretch last year, when things go bad for Golson, they go bad. And he still has to win the FSU starting job in just a few months' worth of time, as redshirt junior Sean Maguire exited the spring atop the depth chart.
5. QB Brad Kaaya, Miami. Since Kaaya managed to win ACC rookie of the year after being thrust into the role of starter on short notice, what can he do now with a full year in Coral Gables under his belt? Coach Al Golden has raved about Kaaya's leadership and command as a sophomore, and we all saw what he was capable of last year as a true freshman when he completed better than 58 percent of his passes for 3,198 yards with 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The downside for Kaaya's potential Heisman candidacy? He'll be playing on a Canes offense that lost five offensive players to the NFL draft this spring.
Potential dark horses
CB Jalen Ramsey, FSU. Defensive players always have a steeper hill to climb when it comes to Heisman candidacy, but few are as dynamic as Ramsey, who could stake his claim to college football's best overall player with another strong season.
RB Dalvin Cook, FSU. The sophomore would've been near the top of this list had he not been charged with misdemeanor battery and subsequently suspended on July 11. His trial was moved up Wednesday from Sept. 2 to Aug. 24, though his playing status will not be decided until the legal process is finished.