ACC Heisman Winners a Rarity but League Isn't Lacking for Candidates
There have been just two -- quarterbacks Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke, both, of course, from Florida State. Ward won it 1993 and Weinke in 2000.
The ACC has a few loose ties to the Heisman, however.
Doug Flutie of Boston College (1984), Vinny Testaverde of Miami (1986) and Gino Torretta of Miami (1992) each won the Heisman Trophy, but that occurred before their respective teams joined the ACC. On the flip side, George Rogers of South Carolina was the 1980 Heisman winner, nine years after the Gamecocks left the ACC.
Enough stretches. Can the ACC end its Heisman drought in 2010?
This much we know for certain:
Eight of the past 10 Heisman Trophy winners have been quarterbacks, with only USC's Reggie Bush (2005) and Alabama's Mark Ingram (2009) as the lone non-signal callers. Additionally, only one Heisman Trophy winner in the history of the award has ever won with a losing record -- Notre Dame quarterback Paul Hornung in 1956. The Irish were 2-8 that year.
With those tidbits to nibble on, let's take a look at some of the ACC Heisman Trophy candidates -- some obvious and some not-so-obvious.
SIX OBVIOUS CANDIDATES
Christian Ponder, senior quarterback, Florida State
What's not to like about Ponder? Want smart? He's already completed his undergraduate degree in finance, earned his MBA and will be halfway through a master's degree in sports management this fall as a senior. Want talent? He was on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards last season -- and was having the best year of a Seminole quarterback since Weinke won the Heisman in 2000 -- before he injured his throwing shoulder on a tackle following an interception at Clemson on Nov. 7. Want motivated? Ponder is fully recovered and should put up some big numbers behind a veteran offensive line.
Ryan Williams, sophomore running back, Virginia Tech
Williams, as the world knows now, wasn't supposed to be the starter coming into last season. Darren Evans set the ACC single-season freshman rush record with 1,265 yards in 2008. But Evans suffered a torn ACL, opening the door for Williams, another freshman. No worries, and jazam! All Williams (right) did was rush for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns, averaging 5.6 yards per carry and proving to be one of the country's most dynamic runners. While Evans has recovered and will return this season, Williams is expected to again lead the Hokies' ground game.
Jacory Harris, junior quarterback, Miami
Many believe Harris has all the tools and personnel -- i.e., perhaps the nation's best collection of wide receivers -- to make a serious run at the Heisman. When Harris had time in the pocket last season, he was nearly unstoppable. However, that wasn't the case when forced from the pocket. Harris finished with 3.352 passing yards and 24 touchdowns. He also suffered 17 interceptions and did not complete 60 percent of his passes. But let's not also forget that Harris also played late last season with a broken thumb that required surgery and kept him out of spring practice. No need to fret UM fans. Harris is happy, healthy and hungry.
Tyrod Taylor, senior quarterback, Virginia Tech
The dual-threat Taylor naturally draws comparisons to Michael Vick by playing for the Hokies. Sure, Taylor isn't Vick -- yet. Taylor averaged fewer than 19 passes per game last season as a junior, yet he threw for 2,311 yards and 13 touchdowns with just five interceptions. But many probably didn't realize that Taylor's efficiency rating of 149.4 was 13th best nationally and tops in the ACC. Taylor also didn't have to run as much last year compared to his sophomore season, finishing with 370 yards -- second-best on the team -- and five scores.
Josh Nesbitt, senior quarterback, Georgia Tech
Nesbitt's unique option responsibilities draw plenty of attention, and rightfully so. Let's also remember that Nebraska's Eric Crouch also won the Heisman Trophy as an option quarterback. Nesbitt is the perfect player to run coach Paul Johnson's triple option. He's big, strong and smart. Last year, he passed for 1,689 yards and 10 touchdowns to go with 991 rushing yards and 18 scores. Also look for Nesbitt to improve on his 47-percent completion percentage from a year ago.
Russell Wilson, junior quarterback, North Carolina State
Quite honestly, Wilson might be the best quarterback in the ACC. He can beat teams with his powerful arm -- standing stationary or running to elude pressure. Wilson put up monstrous numbers last season with 3,027 yards and 31 touchdowns, punctuated by four 300-yard passing games. Here comes the tricky part to the equation, however. Wilson is also a talented baseball player, drafted in the fourth round by the Colorado Rockies earlier this month. While Wilson has said he will return to N.C. State to play football, he will be playing this summer in the Rockies' farm system until August when football practice starts. Will the infielder-outfielder-quarterback be able to switch gears?
SIX NOT-SO-OBVIOUS CANDIDATES
Mark Herzlich, senior linebacker, Boston College
Herzlich (right) is already a winner. After missing the 2009 season because of a rare form of bone cancer in his left leg, Ewing's Sarcoma, Herzlich continues to make strides in his comeback. When Herzlich first returned to BC's football team, he was limited to conditioning drills. While Herzlich didn't play in the Eagles' spring game, he has been a full participant in 7-on-7 drills in summer conditioning. Herzlich has told the media that there's no pain in his left leg and his strength is returning. Herzlich was the 2008 ACC Defensive Player of the Year, finishing with 110 tackles, six interceptions, eight pass break-ups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, thank you very much.
Robert Quinn, junior defensive end, UNC
Quinn is one of four -- yes, four -- UNC defensive players to be named to the 2010 Bronko Nagurski Trophy Watch List. Quinn, however, just might be the best of a quartet that also features Marvin Austin, Bruce Carter and Quan Sturdivant. Quinn had 11 sacks and led the ACC with 19 tackles for losses in 2009. He was a first-team All-ACC selection and was named second-team All-America by CBSSports.com. How good is Quinn? UNC coach Butch Davis calls him a "beast" -- and Davis says it very nicely and with a smile.
DeAndre McDaniel, senior safety, Clemson
McDaniel thought long and hard about bolting early to the NFL, but made the wise decision to return to Clemson for his senior season. Simply, there might not be a better all-around athlete in the conference. Blessed with good size and speed, McDaniel has a nose for the football. He led the ACC with eight interceptions last year. Want tough? He played his sophomore season at linebacker. McDaniel is known to spend countless hours studying game film.
Ras-l Dowling, senior cornerback, Virginia
Dowling participated in 864 plays last season and performed well in a variety of roles. He helped anchor the ACC's No. 4 and nation's No. 21 pass defense and was a stalwart on special teams. Dowling, also voted the team's most improved player by coaches, ranked No. 6 in the ACC in passes defended with 11. Two of his three interceptions on the season stopped scoring drives, one against Boston College in the end zone and the other against Miami deep in U.Va. territory. He returned the pick against the Hurricanes a career-long 49 yards. Dowling's 34-yard punt return off a lateral against TCU was also the longest of the season.
Damien Berry, senior running back, UM
Berry (right) didn't see the field in the Hurricanes' first four games in 2009, but he remained patient and worked his way into the mix to become the team's most productive running back. Splitting time with Javarris James and Graig Cooper, Berry finished with 616 yards, averaging 77 yards in nine games while topping the Hurricanes in yards per carry (6.6) and rushing touchdowns (8. His hard-charging style also made him a favorite with the home crowd last season.
Torrey Smith, junior receiver, Maryland
Sure, Maryland has numerous issues to try and solve this season, like the 105th-ranked rushing offense, 102nd-ranked total offense, 100th-ranked scoring defense and 97th-ranked passing defense from a year ago. That's where Smith comes in. He is the Terps' all-around playmaker who can catch, run and return kicks. Smith had a team-high 61 receptions for 827 yards and five touchdowns. He is also the roommate of quarterback Jamarr Robinson, the projected starter who played in the final four games of last season.