Five ACC Players To Watch
The ACC has gained plenty of recognition so far this season, with four teams now ranked in the AP Top 25. For a few years now, this conference has been known for having some fantastic players worth highlighting. Since the 2013 season, ACC players have won 14 of the 17 major individual college football awards, and there are plenty of players in 2015 vying to continue that success. And even beyond those win awards, there are plenty of ACC players that are still elite at their position. I have identified five ACC players that college football fans should keep their eyes on, both for now and the future.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB
It feels like Watson has been labeled a Heisman dark-horse for the past couple years and while he may not have lived up to that title, he is certainly having a fantastic 2015 season. Stats aside, he has led Clemson to a 6-0 start and the No. 6 ranking in the AP Poll. They are well on their way to an ACC title and perhaps a College Football Playoff berth.
When looking at the stats, he is no less impressive. Watson has completed 68.2% of his passes so far, throwing for 1410 yards (only 56 away from his 2014 total) and 14 touchdowns. That's good for 8.29 yards-per-attempt with a passer rating of 156.8 (17th in the nation). In addition to his passing prowess he is the second-leading rusher for Clemson, going for 234 yards and two touchdowns on 56 attempts, a solid 4.2 yards-per-carry. He certainly isn’t blowing anyone away, but he’s playing rock-solid with a good supporting cast surrounding him.
Watson is the type of quarterback that makes a great leader for a great team. Clemson has a high chance of going far this season, and they owe a lot of that to consistently great play from Watson. Much of the rest of their season will rely on Watson's performance down the stretch. Fortunately for them, the second half of their schedule is made up of more than a few soft defenses. Watson should be able to pad his stats over the next six games and finish with career-best numbers. If Clemson can win out and make it to a Playoff game, Watson will gain plenty of national recognition for his leadership and play.
Watson isn't eligible for the NFL draft until 2017, yet he still has the chance to build a solid draft resume with a strong 2015 season. He certainly has the potential to make a Heisman push in 2016.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB
There probably hasn’t been a more talked-about player in the ACC this season than Dalvin Cook. He is absolutely the reason that Florida State has remained undefeated, and there’s for no reason his stellar play to stop in the colder months. He has amassed 955 yards (fifth nationally) and 10 touchdowns (11th nationally) on just 110 attempts, giving him 8.7 yards-per-attempt (also fifth nationally).
Cook on pace for nearly a 2,000 yard season, something only two backs were able to do last season. Florida State will surely continue to lean on him in their coming games, meaning he’ll definitely get the chances he needs to break 2,000. If he can get to 2000 yards, and probably even if he can't, he will finish among the top backs in the country. Currently, Cook is ranked fifth in the Heisman race according to the ESPN Expert's Poll. I don't know if he has enough to surpass Leonard Fournette, but he can absolutely make a huge push for the second or third spot. If something were to happen to Fournette, Cook could potentially become the frontrunner. After Jameis Winston's disappointing fall from the Heisman polls last season, its good to see an ACC player getting a lot of sustained national recognition.
Like Watson, Cook isn't eligible for the draft until 2017, giving him a chance to put together two stellar season in a row before being selected. If Cook can improve on his 2015 successes for next season, the ACC could see two Heisman candidates in he and Watson.
Marcus Marshall, Georgia Tech RB
This one may come as a surprise because Marcus Marshall is a player that has flown well under the radar this season. He has only rushed for 439 yards and four touchdowns, but he has done that on just 41 carries. Marshall had an impressive season-opening game with 184 yards and two scores on just eight carries, but he only received 12 total carries over the next four games. After an average outing against the run-stopping power of Clemson (45 yards on 11 carries), Marshall exploded again against Pittsburgh with 159 yards and two more touchdowns, needing only 10 touches to do so. That's an incredible 15.9 yards-per-attempt.
In fact, by just looking at the three games where he received a standard number of carries, Marshall has rushed for 388 yards and four touchdowns on only 29 carries. That's 13.4 yards-per-carry. Furthermore, he’s not just breaking one big run every game and then getting a lot of small-yardage runs; he is actually gaining huge chunks of yardage every time he touches the ball.
Watch out for Marcus Marshall because he is only a freshman. He is extremely talented (remember he broke a lot of his brother's (UGA's Keith Marshall) high school rushing records), and could be a huge impact player for Tech over their remaining 5 games. He is an incredibly explosive athlete, and will hopefully get the touches he needs over the next five games to put a bow on a fantastic freshman season. Marshall should gain a lot of confidence from his debut season and hopefully can improve and become a dominant player in the ACC for the next few years.
Everett Golson, Florida State QB
Golson was considered an elite quarterback at Notre Dame before his late-season derailment in 2014 and eventual transfer to FSU. In 2015, he has turned his game around, throwing for 1449 yards (2nd most in the ACC), 11 touchdowns (2nd most in the ACC), and most important of all, zero interceptions (best in the ACC). Since interceptions became his downfall at Notre Dame, this is a huge improvement for Golson. A lot of people didn't expect him to play this well at FSU after his letdown at Notre Dame, but he has absolutely proved them to be wrong, and he has instead exceeded all expectations.
Similar to Deshaun Watson, Golson isn’t blowing anyone away with his stats, but he is extremely efficient (completing 67.2% of his passes) and doesn’t commit turnovers. He has quietly led Florida State to an 6-0 start and they currently sit ranked 9th in the country. If Florida State can continue winning, Golson should finish 2015 with fantastic numbers and a shot at All-ACC recognition. It looks like there should be an exciting three-player race between Golson, Watson, and Miami's  ;Brad Kaaya for All-ACC First Team Quarterback honors.
If Florida State can upset Clemson and make it to the Playoff, Golson should earn back the "elite" moniker that he received at Notre Dame. Golson also has a great chance at increasing his draft stock and being considered a legitimate NFL prospect.
Ross Martin, Duke K
I’ll bet that most people reading this have no clue who Ross Martin is. But Duke’s place-kicker is currently having a literally perfect season, going 19-19 on extra points and 12-12 on field goals. In my mind, he has eclipsed Florida State's Roberto Aguayo as the most automatic kicker in the ACC in 2015. He is one of only seven kickers in the country currently sitting on a perfect season.
Martin came up huge against Boston College going 3-for-3, including nailing a field goal from 53 yards out, scoring Duke’s only points of the game. Duke runs a very efficient offense, so he isn’t attempting a lot of field goals in every game, which means he should stay fresh all season. If Martin can just maintain near-perfection, he should be a front-runner for the 2015 Lou Groza Award. Kicking may not be particularly exciting to watch, but if Martin stays in his current form, it would certainly be a wonderful achievement for both he and the ACC if he were to win Groza honors.