ACC Football 2012 Heisman Watch: Week Five

EJ Manuel’s Performance Against Clemson Has Vaulted Him to the Top of Our ACC Heisman Watch List

What appears below is a quasi-realistic (read: crapshoot) view of which ACC players could potentially win the sport’s highest honor, the Heisman trophy. We’re looking at these players with the typical lens — winning team, team’s best player, signature moment and statistical excellence. If every player in the ACC eventually drops out of the running (maybe not the case this year?!), then this turns into the Weinke award, after the conference’s most recent Heisman winner, Chris Weinke…

1. EJ Manuel, QB/Florida State (1,093 total yards, 9 total TD, 1 INT, 73.4 percent completion) (LW: 2)

Any doubts about Manuel’s candidacy, and his team’s abilities as a top-five program, are long gone after his huge performance on Saturday night. With nearly 500 total yards, the senior was an absolute force, and continues to beat teams with his legs (something he’s declined to do up until this point). As long as Florida State remains undefeated, he’ll creep further and further into the Heisman conversation. And, unlike most others, he’s already got his signature performance wrapped up.

2. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (1,103 total yards, 9 passing TD, 2 INT, 68 percent completion) (LW: 1)

Boyd has really improved since 2011 — which is saying a lot considering how well he played last season. But, because his team came out on the wrong side of their game with FSU, he drops a spot and will stay there so long as the ‘Noles stay unbeaten. Still, you can see that the junior has matured as both a passer and runner, making better decisions and increasing his overall accuracy throwing the ball. That extra burst of speed he’s gained as a result of the weight loss this offseason also doesn’t hurt, as he’s sure to face continued pressure as the season wears on.

3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR/Clemson (31 receptions, 407 receiving yards, 5 TD) (LW: NR)

It’s unlikely Hopkins will ever get enough Heisman hype as a wide receiver with no other facets of his game. But at the same time, it’s hard to ignore the player who’s been Boyd’s main target through the first four games of the year. If there’s anyone who benefits the most from Sammy Watkins‘s return too, it’s probably Hopkins. With two defenders occupied by his counterpart, Hopkins will find himself in more man-to-man situations, and should take advantage with ease.

4. Duke Johnson, RB/Miami (838 all-purpose yards, 6 TD) (LW: 5)

There’s no ignoring the nation’s leader in all-purpose yards, despite the fact he gained “only” 195 total yards against Georgia Tech on Saturday, with zero scores. Splitting carries and attention with veteran back Mike James may either be a blessing for him a curse — deferred attention, but reduced touches. Though it’s farfetched to think Johnson could win a Heisman in his freshman year, this could ultimately set the stage for a stunning sophomore effort (NCAA penalties withstanding).

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