Tigers picked to win ACC; Watson preseason POY

clemfoot-daboaccClemson is the preseason favorite to repeat as ACC football champion, according to a poll of 191 media members in attendance at last week’s 2016 ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte.

The Tigers, who posted a 14-1 overall record last season and reached the College Football Playoff National Championship Game, are also picked to again capture the Atlantic Division, while North Carolina is favored to repeat as the Coastal Division winner.

Clemson junior quarterback Deshaun Watson was the overwhelming choice to repeat as ACC Player-of-the-Year after his record-setting 2015 campaign. Watson was also the media’s preseason selection as conference player-of-the-year last season.

The Tigers were picked the likely 2016 ACC champions on 144 ballots, followed by Florida State with 39 votes and North Carolina with seven. One voter chose Louisville.

In the Atlantic Division preseason voting, Clemson received 148 first-place votes and finished with 1,293 total points. Florida State received 42 first-place votes and placed second with 1,176 points, while Louisville had one first-place vote and was third in the voting with 961 points.

NC State (704 total points) was tabbed for a fourth-place Atlantic Division finish, followed by Boston College (441), Syracuse (426) and Wake Forest (347).

North Carolina was selected the likely Coastal winner by 121 voters and finished with 1,238 total points, followed by Miami (Fla.) with 50 first-place votes and 1,108 points. Pittsburgh received 14 first-place votes and was third in the balloting with 859 points.

Virginia Tech (three first-place votes) placed fourth with 697 points, followed by Duke (597), Georgia Tech (588) and Virginia (261). Two voters chose Duke to claim the Coastal Division, while one gave Georgia Tech the nod.

If the overall prediction of the voters proves correct, the 2016 ACC Dr Pepper Football Championship Game on December 3 at Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium will be a rematch of last year’s event. Clemson defeated North Carolina 45-37 for the 2015 ACC title after both teams posted 8-0 records in conference play during the regular season.

Watson will lead a Clemson offense that also returns talented running back Wayne Gallman, leading wide receiver Artavis Scott and steady offensive linemen Jay Guillermo, Mitch Hyatt and Tyrone Crowder. Linebacker Ben Boulware leads a group of five returning defensive starters. The Tigers, who have won at least 10 games each of the past five seasons, will seek their 16th ACC championship in 2016.

Watson led the preseason ACC Player-of-the-Year balloting with 164 votes, followed by Florida State running back Dalvin Cook with 18. North Carolina running back Elijah Hood received four votes, while Hurricane quarterback Brad Kaaya and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson picked up two votes apiece. Duke cornerback/return specialist DeVon Edwards received one vote.

Watson captured both the Davey O’Brien and Manning Awards as the nation’s top quarterback in 2015 after passing for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 1,105 yards and 12 more scores. The Gainesville, Ga., native became the first player in FBS history to amass 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season.

The ACC Male Athlete-of-the-Year and MVP of both the Dr Pepper ACC Football Championship Game and Capital One Orange Bowl, Watson was fifth nationally in completion percentage (67.8) and was voted ACC Offensive Back-of-the-Week four times in 2015. Watson is bidding to become the first student-athlete to be named ACC Football Player-of-the-Year in back-to-back seasons since Florida State’s Charlie Ward in 1992,93.

ACC Championship Votes
1. Clemson – 144
2. Florida State – 39
3. North Carolina – 7
4. Louisville – 1

Atlantic Division
1. Clemson (148) – 1293
2. Florida State (42) – 1176
3. Louisville (1) – 961
4. NC State – 704
5. Boston College – 441
6. Syracuse – 426
7. Wake Forest – 347
Note – First-place votes in (parentheses)

Coastal Division
1. North Carolina (121) – 1238
2. Miami (Fla.) (50) – 1108
3. Pittsburgh (14) – 859
4. Virginia Tech (3) – 697
5. Duke (2) – 597
6. Georgia Tech (1) – 588
7. Virginia – 261

ACC Player-of-the-Year
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson – 164
2. Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State – 18
3. Elijah Hood, RB, North Carolina – 4
4. Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville – 2
Brad Kayaa, QB, Miami (Fla.) – 2
6. DeVon Edwards, CB/KR, Duke – 1

Photo courtesy of Carl Ackerman

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