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(Editor's Note: Jeff Fischel, Max Skinner, Jacob Dennis and Patrick Ronan are the contributors for the "Top 25 Players to Watch" list. Names at the end of each sub piece delineate that writer's contribution.)
Here at the ACCDN, we are counting down the top 25 ACC football players to watch heading into the 2015 season. We've ranked the league's best players based on past success and what we expect to see from them this upcoming season.
After going through the entire list of impressive student-athletes throughout the ACC, here is our top five.
Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas emerged as a dual-threat QB in 2014 when he forced his way onto the national stage by leading the Yellow Jackets to an 11-3 record and an Orange Bowl win. Thomas finished less than 300 passing yards shy of passing for 2,000 yards and rushing for 1,000 more, a feat that is undoubtedly within reach for the talented field general in 2015. Tech finished a mere 13 total points short of 14 wins, causing expectations for Paul Johnson and company to skyrocket this preseason. If Justin Thomas can raise his play in the upcoming season like he continually did last year, the Yellow Jackets have a real chance to get over that hump.
Tech's quarterback didn’t sugarcoat his personal expectations at ACC Kickoff, saying that the Jackets “can play on any stage with anybody” and that the team “wants to go 14-0.” [Watch the entire interview]
Preseason hopes mean nothing once the season starts, however, and Yellow Jacket Nation is eager to see if Thomas can help Tech take the next step in reestablishing its reputation as one of the best programs in the country. If Thomas can turn in a few more plays like this, don’t be surprised to see the electric playmaker generate some Heisman buzz on The Flats in Atlanta. – Jacob Dennis
You never know until you try.
Jalen Ramsey knows all about that saying. He can play anywhere on the field for FSU because he’s tried.. and succeeded. It’s the reason Ramsey is the highest-rated defensive player on our list.
Someone to shut down a receiver 1 on 1? Check.
Innate ability to read and react to the QB? Check.
Hard-nosed run-stuffing tackler? Check.
The Seminoles defensive coaches keep moving him around because they trust him to be great no matter what. This year, the plan is to have him focus on being a shutdown corner. And there’s no reason to doubt he’ll be one of the best in the nation. – Jeff Fischel
Before the 2014 season, James Conner set some pretty lofty goals.
“I want to have about 10 sacks and go for about 10 touchdowns and try to go for about 1,300 rushing yards,” Conner told the Pittsburgh-Tribune-Review.
Well, James, how does 1,765 yards and an ACC record 26 TDs sound instead? That sounds pretty good to me. We’ll give you a break for only recording one tackle. After all, you didn’t really end up playing on the defensive side of the ball like we all expected.
Last season, Conner established himself as one of the nation’s elite offensive players, earning All-American and winning ACC Player of the Year. Even after a historic season, Conner still came in second for ACC Preseason Player of the Year.
You know what’s a scary thought? James Conner, aka the Terminator, playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Carolina and Duke fans may want to take cover from this bulldozing machine. In 4 career games against UNC and Duke respectively, Conner has rushed for 758 yards with 9 TDs. So basically, he’s averaging 190 yards and 2.25 TDs per game against the Heels and Blue Devils. You would have thought Conner was playing for the Victory Bell!
Regardless, circle your calendars for Oct. 29 (vs UNC) and Nov. 14 (@Duke). While you’re at it, just tune into the James Conner show all season. Get your popcorn ready. – Max Skinner
Here comes Florida State with another reason for us to be captivated by what’s happening at the QB position.
Former Notre Dame star Everett Golson is using his final season of eligibility to try to lead the Seminoles back to the College Football Playoff. It’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch how quickly he gets comfortable in Jimbo Fisher’s offense and how quickly the 2 of them develop a rapport.
But will he even be the starter? We just don’t know. Sean Maguire threw for 300 yards and beat Clemson in his one start last year. Seems like a pretty good sign that he can run Jimbo’s offense.
That said, we’ve seen Golson do some things on the football field that few have ever done… like complete 25 straight passes in a game.
My gut says Golson won’t just win the job, he’ll be a star. And I won’t want to stop watching. – Jeff Fischel
Last year, Deshaun Watson left Clemson fans asking 1 big question. What if he’d been the starter all season?
This year, it’s not just Clemson fans wishing and hoping. Watson, when he was healthy last year, established himself as perhaps the most compelling player in college football. We all want to see a full season of his dynamic dual-threat skills. The scary thing for defenses and the great thing for fans: Dabo Swinney told me in no uncertain terms that Watson’s getting even better. Much better.
So, I guess perhaps some more of this?
Truth is, as much fun as it is to imagine Watson hurdling tall buildings and oncoming defenders in a single bound on a regular basis, listen to Swinney’s reaction when we put him in our play-by-play booth.
“Don’t ever do that again, Deshaun.” We’ll agree to disagree, Dabo. – Jeff Fischel