As part of our 2012 season preview, we’re counting down the top 25 players in the ACC for this season, from 25 to one. Obviously these lists are always completely subjective, so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
Nowhere on anyone’s 2011 preview lists and accolades did you see Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd. Throwing just 63 passes the year before, it’s easy to understand why. Going into his sophomore campaign, he was completing just 52 percent of his passes, and nearly as many picks (three) as touchdowns (four). Not overly mobile, he was considered much more of a pocket passer than any sort of dual-threat. But all of that was before offensive coordinator Chad Morris came aboard.
Stressing a fast-paced, manic attack, Morris saw the potential in Boyd and his cohorts, receiver Sammy Watkins and halfback Andre Ellington, and ran with it. Boyd, unleashed onto unsuspecting opponents for the first time, with 28 total touchdowns in the team’s first eight games. The Tigers were unstoppable at 8-0, and Boyd and Watkins were even getting some Heisman hype. While the offense “cooled” by Morris’s standards down the stretch, quarterback still threw for nearly 1,500 yards and nine touchdowns (plus one more score on the ground) over the final six games. According to Boyd, however, he’s definitely learned from the experience. As he told Orange and White’s Greg Wallace:
“Just my leadership role had to be revamped,” he said. “(The way (offensive coordinator Chad Morris) challenged me in the spring was the same way. There’s only so much someone can push you. You have to push it yourself, you have to want it yourself. That’s the thing. What’s your motivating factor?”
Now can he deliver on all of that? Unlike last season, the Tigers come into the 2012 season with a target on their backs and a black eye too, after being embarrassed so badly in the game that shall not be named. They won’t take anyone by surprise, but it appears they’re okay with that. Reports say that Morris is pushing the team to go even faster this year, and that will only benefit Boyd in the long run. Last season, he was at his most effective when he had the freedom to sort of let loose — especially against slower defenses. Throwing even more, and spreading the field with an elite group of receivers (along with Ellington, who’s been working on his pass-catching), there’s a good chance he could eclipse the nearly-4,000 total yards and 38 scores he put up last season. If he does, the rest of the conference should buckle up.