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Deshaun Watson, Dalvin Cook battle for ACC offensive supremacy

ACC Kickoff is upon us, but before the media's picks for players of the year are released later this week, ESPN writers Andrea Adelson, Jared Shanker, Matt Fortuna and David Hale are taking a crack at some of the names to watch.

Here are our picks for offensive player of the year candidates -- from the obvious names to potential surprises.

The pick: Clemson QB Deshaun Watson

There is little doubt Watson is the favorite to repeat as ACC Player of the Year. If he does, he would become the first player to accomplish that feat since Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward in 1992 and 1993. Watson was spectacular as a sophomore, becoming the first player in FBS history with at least 4,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in a season. He also became the first player in school history to make the trip to New York as a Heisman finalist. The expectations for this season are even higher. Not only does Watson have a firm command of the offense, he has a cadre of skilled playmakers returning. Plus, the knee injury that limited his ability to run in the first half of 2015 is no longer a concern. It would be an absolute stunner if Watson falls from his perch as the best quarterback in the country. -- Adelson

The runner up: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook

Florida State fans are not willing to concede Watson is the ACC's best player. Cook's 2015 season is a convincing argument it's not definitive Watson is the preseason favorite for offensive player of the year. Cook is positioning himself to become the school's most distinguished running back. Duplicating 2015's numbers will put him in the Heisman Trophy conversation, one he was left out of last season and still has Tallahassee harboring voter resentment. The junior is among the few players nationally capable of scoring on any touch and from any point on the field. His touchdowns on average cover 33 yards, and with a healthy hamstring that number could increase this fall. An autumn assault on the ACC record books is certain if he leads college football in 20-yard gains a second straight year and makes a run at 2,000 yards behind a more experienced offensive line. If Cook rushes for 194 yards against Clemson once again -- and the Seminoles win -- he'll end up as the ACC offensive player of the year. -- Shanker

The sleeper: Pitt RB James Conner

Rare is a one-time league player of the year considered a "sleeper" pick, but when said player misses practically an entire season because of knee surgery, then watches front-line sophomores from Clemson and Florida State dominate, well, it is easy to consider 2014 an afterthought. But Conner is a man on a mission this season, and for reasons far beyond the MCL tear that cost him most of 2015. Conner was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma on Thanksgiving, but he battled through 12 rounds of chemo, made multiple spring practice appearances and now is on the brink of a full return by Week 1 of this season. Two years ago, the overlooked sophomore bruised his way to 1,765 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns, winning ACC player of the year honors. Now? He returns to a Pitt team that boasts arguably the league's best offensive line, with an even bigger chip on his shoulder. -- Fortuna

The deep sleeper: Georgia Tech B-back Marcus Marshall

Last year was a complete disaster for Georgia Tech, but there are plenty of silver linings as we look to 2016, starting with the fact that so much of the inexperienced members of 2015's offense return as seasoned veterans. That starts with Marshall, who showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman (184 yards vs. Alcorn State, 159 vs. Pitt) but also struggled with inconsistency behind a beat-up offensive line. This year, he knows the drill, and the talent surrounding him -- including QB Justin Thomas and a healthy A-back in Qua Searcy -- should be much improved. It was just two years ago that the Yellow Jackets' B-backs (Zach Laskey and Synjyn Days) combined for 1,775 yards and 18 touchdowns. If Marshall approaches those stats in 2016, he'll be a threat for postseason awards. -- Hale

Other names to watch: Miami QB Brad Kaaya, North Carolina QB Mitch Trubisky, Florida State QB Deondre Francois, Virginia Tech WR Isaiah Ford, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson, NC State RB Matt Dayes, UNC RB Elijah Hood.