Jimbo Fisher never shies away from an opportunity to tout the talent in his conference, but when he suggested the ACC had three serious Heisman candidates earlier this week, the third player on his list came as a bit of a surprise to some observers.
Deshaun Watson remains the odds-on favorite to win the award in 2016. Fisher’s own star, running back Dalvin Cook, should be in the running too.
And then there’s Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya.
Does Kaaya belong in such elite company? The Palm Beach Post digs into it, and notes both Kaaya’s strong numbers in his first two seasons, his high draft stock and the nominally good odds given to his candidacy from oddsmakers.
Add to that the history of success new Miami coach Mark Richt has had with quarterbacks, and it’s not too difficult to make Kaaya’s case.
Perhaps the better question is, are those the ACC’s only candidates for the Heisman?
Westgate’s oddsmakers include two other ACC players as potential candidates, with North Carolina’s Elijah Hood at 50-to-1 and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson at 100-to-1. Both should post strong numbers in 2016, and certainly could fight their way into the mix -- particularly if the Tar Heels or Cardinals are in the playoff hunt.
While Hood was exceptional last season, his new quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, might be an interesting off-the-board name to watch. North Carolina’s offense offers QBs the opportunity to post eye-popping numbers, and with a receiving corps that is as deep as any in college football, Trubisky won’t lack for weapons.
Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas was a darkhorse Heisman candidate entering 2015, and while his team slipped badly last season, he has the talent to turn heads this year.
Defensive players rarely earn legitimate Heisman respect, but if Florida State has a huge year, it’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which Derwin James could make a strong case. Pitt’s Jordan Whitehead could get reps on both sides of the ball, which should earn some attention too.
And then there’s the case for Whitehead’s teammate, James Conner.
Two years ago, Conner was the ACC’s offensive player of the year, an All-American and rushed for a whopping 26 touchdowns. If he could repeat that performance in 2016 after sitting out last season and battling cancer since a Dec. 8 diagnosis -- well, the Heisman is as much about great stories as it is about great stats, and Conner figures to have both.
In other words, Fisher’s list probably could have been a bit longer, and if Kaaya, Trubisky, Jackson, Conner & Co. all meet expectations in 2016, Fisher will have a much easier time touting the ACC’s talent moving forward.