The ACC enters 2014 with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, and Jameis Winston certainly figures to be the favorite to repeat. But as the past two years have shown, the next winner isn’t usually on everyone’s radar in January, and the ACC won’t have any shortage of candidates for the award in 2014. These are the top contenders.
1. Jameis Winston, QB, FSU
Winston won the award as a redshirt freshman in 2013, and while he’ll have to deal with a long offseason of scrutiny and far higher expectations for 2014, he’ll also have the luxury of an exceptional offense around him. Four-fifths of Winston’s offensive line will be back, as will his top receiving target (Rashad Greene) and his favorite short-yardage target (Nick O’Leary). Winning the award twice is a tough task (as Johnny Manziel proved last year) but Winston figures to have ample weapons around him to make another run at it.
2. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami
Johnson’s 2013 season was cut short by a broken ankle in early November, but he figures to be recovered in time to start the 2014 season, and he’ll be looking to make up for lost time. Johnson averaged 6.3 yards per carry before the injury. Among AQ-conference running backs returning for 2014, only Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon had as many carries as Johnson and rushed for a higher average. Johnson’s skills aren’t limited to the ground game either. He caught 27 passes as a freshman and has nearly 1,300 kickoff return yards for his career.
3. Karlos Williams, RB, FSU
When the 2013 season opened, Williams was a backup safety at Florida State. When it ended, he’d racked up nearly 800 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns as a running back. The transition came after FSU’s opener, and Williams proved himself a natural. The only drawback was the competition in the backfield, where he was forced to split carries with Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr. In 2014, however, Williams will be alone atop the depth chart, and his numbers suggest a big year is in store. No AQ-conference back with at least 90 carries averaged more per rush than Williams (8.0) or scored as often (touchdown every 8.3 carries).
4. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke
Pop quiz: Who is the only receiver from an AQ conference with 1,000 yards in each of the past two seasons who will return for 2014? It was Crowder, of course. For the past two years, he’s been one of the nation’s top pass catchers, but he’s rarely gotten much acclaim. He’s one of just four players returning for 2014 who tallied 1,800 all-purpose yards in 2013, and with QB Anthony Boone returning to lead Duke’s potent offense, Crowder could finish off his career with a bang.
5. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
The road to the Heisman is an uphill climb, even for the best defensive players. Just ask Beasley’s cross-state neighbor Jadeveon Clowney. But Beasley’s decision to return for his senior campaign means he’ll be among the most likely defensive players to earn consideration, and his numbers from 2013 -- 13 sacks (third nationally) and 23 tackles for losses (fourth nationally) -- certainly make a case that he’s a worthy contender.