ACC Football 2012 Heisman Watch: Week Eight

Despite the Bye Week, Clemson QB Tajh Boyd Still Looks Like the ACC’s Top Player

As we detailed last week, the ACC no longer has a viable national title contender, thus has no Heisman candidate to speak of. So, as promised, for the remainder of this season, we’ll now be compiling a watch list for the fictional Chris Weinke Award, to honor the best player in the ACC. These posts will remain under “Heisman Watch” for the purposes of consistency and SEO, however. Have other nominees? Submit your ballots below.

1. Tajh Boyd, QB/Clemson (1,972 total yards, 16 total TD, 5 INT, 68.2 percent completion) (LW: 1)

Nothing’s changed for Boyd, our clubhouse leader, since his team had a bye last week. So while other candidates may be hot on his tail, he’ll get his opportunity to further distance himself from the pack on Saturday, when his Tigers take on Virginia Tech on ABC. We’ve said it before, but the junior’s evolution can be traced to his increased mobility — something that could very well be on display this weekend if the Hokies rush the passer as well as they did in their previous game.

2. EJ Manuel, QB/Florida State (1,990 total yards, 15 total TD, 4 INT, 72.1 percent completion) (LW: 3)

Manuel’s big game against Boston College showed that he’s still a contender to be named the ACC’s top player, as he threw for 439 yards and four touchdowns against a very overmatched Eagles defense. And while the yardage numbers were surely impressive, what’s most striking is Manuel’s much improved accuracy. This past weekend, he completed 27 of 34 passes (79.4 percent), his third game with a completion rate of 75-percent or higher.

3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR/Clemson (49 catches, 777 yards, 8 TD) (LW: 2)

Hopkins made some serious waves in the season’s first half, catching defenses off-guard and elevating himself as Clemson’s biggest playmaker. And for the second half of the year? Tajh Boyd will find him on the field; that won’t be a problem. But as defenses amass more game film on him and adjust to him as the focal point of the Tigers’ passing attack, things may start to change. This, of course, is completely nullified by a healthy Sammy Watkins, something Hopkins likely knows himself.

4. Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina (985 all-purpose yards, 10 TD) (LW: NR)

Considering the fact that he’s missed two games this season (and played just half of two others), Bernard’s numbers are astonishing. On average, he puts up nearly 200 yards per game, with two scores — made even more lethal by his dangerous punt return skills (averaging 17.5 yards per return). Where he’s most effective, though, is still the running game. Since he’s been back at full strength, the Heels’ rushing attack has been unstoppable as the catalyst to two big wins. While coach Larry Fedora’s offense would normally call for more passing, there’s just too much value in having Bernard run the ball 20-plus times per game to stop now.

5. Stefon Diggs, WR/Maryland (1,013 all-purpose yards, 4 TD) (LW: NR)

Only a freshman, Diggs has managed to thrive in a Maryland offense that’s still under construction, while also showing himself to be a key difference-maker in special teams. And while the stat line doesn’t necessarily reflect his huge performances, the energy he brings is extremely apparent. This past Saturday, not only did he return the opening kickoff 100 yards for a score, but he also caught a 60-yard pass to set up a touchdown later on. He’s done whatever it takes to help his team get Ws, even if it doesn’t pad his results in the box score.

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