Players to watch in the ACC for 2015

It’s Wednesday and that means it’s time to start weekly our college football roundtables. Today we start our conversation on the Power 5 conferences with the Atlantic Coast Conference. TSS Associate Editors Bart Doan and Terry Johnson joins staff writer Kevin Causey and special rotating guests in our weekly roundtables discussing all things college football.

Previously, we’ve discussed the Sun Belt ConferenceConference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West Conference and The American. Today we discuss the ACC as we are joined by Joining us this week is Matthew of the ACC-centric All Sports Discussion and The ACC Weekly Podcast and Mike Ferguson of the Florida State based site Noled Out.

Question: Who are the players to watch this year in the ACC?


On Twitter @HokiesSmash:

I’m very interested in watching Yellow Jacket Junior (RS) Quarterback, Justin Thomas.  Georgia Tech head football coach, Paul Johnson, has the best quarterback he’s had in his tenure in Atlanta.  Last season, Justin Thomas showed us that he:

  • Is a playmaker in that triple option offense on his feet; and
  • Is a legitimate passer (which has been a major issue for Paul Johnson’s quarterbacks  in the past)

Last year, Thomas brought the Yellow Jackets to wins vs. Virginia Tech (on the road), Miami, Clemson, Georgia, and came within two points of defeating Florida State in the ACC Championship game.  The Jackets closed the season with a victory vs. Mississippi State.

This year, I’m wondering what sort of leap Thomas can make in his second year leading Paul Johnson’s offense.  With a second year in Paul Johnson’s offense, I feel like this is more of a fine-tuning of sorts for Justin Thomas.  This year, the game will slow down for Justin Thomas – he will make less mistakes (and he didn’t make very many last year) – and my feeling is that you’re going to see him become one of the elite playmakers in the ACC.  This is a Georgia Tech team that is the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division – and its fortunes will ride on the back of Justin Thomas (the Jackets will go as far as Thomas takes them).

And when that triple option offense is humming, it’s a thing of beauty for Georgia Tech fans (not so much for ACC defensive coordinators as it feels like a trip to the dental office, you know, when the dentist has the drill in his hands going at your teeth).

Mike Ferguson

On Twitter: @MikeWFerguson

One guy I think will take a big step and become a household name is Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams. Without a healthy Deshaun Watson last season, Williams finished with over 1,000 yards receiving and a yards-per-catch average over 18 after doing very little as a freshman. Williams is 6’4″ and can really stretch the field. If Watson can stay healthy, Williams has the ability to have an All-American type season.

Bart Doan:

On Twitter @TheCoachBart

There are some organizations that when you say them, you just automatically know certain things about them. I say “Kansas City,” I’m guessing you think “barbecue.” I say “Seattle,” you think about hipsters sitting around drinking coffee talking about their new Chevy Sparks. I say “Clemson,” you think “terrifying pass rushers.”

The Tigers lose two all-ACC defensive linemen, but always seem to recruit the position well and find ways to reload. Clemson’s typical Clemson this year, but with a lot of the ACC rebuilding in different sorts of ways (ie: Florida State isn’t likely to go hot knife through butter again), Clemson and all their talent can be looked at as the favorite. To do it, they’d need that mainstay harrowing pass rushing. Look to Shaq Lawson, a reserve end last year, as the next “insert good Clemson pass rusher here.”

Lawson is a load, 6’3″, 275, and came on pretty strong last year. He’s a jack of all trades type and had 3.5 sacks and 11 tackles for loss in reserve duty. But it was in their bowl game where you maybe saw a sign of things to come against Oklahoma. Lawson forced a fumble and blocked an extra point, showing the athleticism and ability to be the next really good one out there in Tiger orange.

Terry Johnson:

On Twitter @SectionTPJ

The player I’m keeping an eye on is Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas.

Make no mistake about it: Thomas is the most versatile quarterback in the ACC. The leader of the Jackets’ triple option attack, Thomas finished fourth in the rushing with 1,086 yards. However, he also excelled as a passer, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt (best in the ACC among starting QB’s), with an impressive 18/6 TD-to-INT ratio.

While these numbers are impressive, what stands out about Thomas is his leadership. Rather than hang his head after a costly fumble allowed Georgia to take 24-21 lead, Thomas responded with the poise of champion. With just 18 seconds left on the clock, he managed to get the run-first Jackets into field goal range, alertly pulling the ball down and running for 21 yards instead of trying to force a throw that wasn’t there.

Few quarterbacks at the college level have the type of composure that Thomas displayed during the decisive moments of that contest. It’ll be interesting to see how he performs now that Georgia Tech is the hunted rather than the hunter.

Kevin Causey:

On Twitter @CFBZ

My initial answer was going to be Justin Thomas, but that’s already been covered. One thing I am very intrigued on by Thomas is now that defenses have tape on how he is going to react in different situations in Paul Johnson’s offense….can they adjust to him and put him through a “sophomore slump” (yeah I know he’s not a sophomore) or will he continue to blossom in the Tech offense? But since Thomas has been talked about….

What about Everett Golson? He’s easily one of the most intriguing players in college football for the 2015 season. He’s transferring from a huge football school (Notre Dame) to another huge football school (FSU) and he’s filling the shoes of one of the greatest college QBs in recent memory. Will Golson adapt quickly to Jimbo Fisher’s offense or will he flounder with turnover problems? To me, Golson and FSU are must see TV this season.

The other guy I’m going to keep my eyes glued on is Deshaun Watson. As a freshman he completed 67.9% of his passes, threw 14 TD vs 2 INT and also ran for 5 TD. If he can avoid injuries this year, he could be the best player in the ACC. Mark down September 17th on your calendar. It’s Deshaun Watson and Clemson at Louisville on a Thursday and it’s going to be fun.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.