Clemson University

Deshaun Watson isn’t the only Heisman candidate in the ACC

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is one of three ACC players in the mix for the Heisman heading into the season.
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook is one of three ACC players in the mix for the Heisman heading into the season. tdominick@thestate.com

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is considered to be the preseason Heisman Trophy favorite, according to a host of media outlets, but he isn’t the only player in the ACC in the conversation for the most prestigious award in college football.

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya join the Clemson QB as ACC players with aspirations of winning the Heisman.

According to Bovada, Watson has the second best odds to win the trophy, behind only LSU running back Leonard Fournette. Cook is fifth, while Kaaya is tied for 16th.

Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said, in his opinion, all three players are legitimate Heisman candidates.

“I think so. They’re all going to be first-round picks. I definitely do,” he said. “You name me a league that has bigger stars than Dalvin Cook, Deshaun Watson and Brad Kaaya.”

Each player is addressing the hype in a different manner.

Watson, who finished third in the Heisman race last year, doesn’t mind talking about potentially winning the award.

“I embrace it,” he said Friday at ACC Media Days. “I feel like I’m one of the best in the country. Every athlete should feel that way. If you don’t feel that way, then you’re cheating yourself.”

Kaaya, who led the ACC in passing yards per game last regular season, acknowledged it’s an honor to be mentioned for the award alongside Watson, who he’s known since high school, but added he still has a lot to prove.

“There’s still things we both want to accomplish in our careers,” he said. “I don’t think he’s buying into his own hype, and I’m not doing the same for mine.”

Cook became FSU’s all-time single-season leader in rushing yards last season with 1,691 after averaging 141 rushing yards per game and 7.4 yards per carry. He said Friday he believes he’s the best running back in the nation, but also said he isn’t paying any attention to Heisman talk.

“It can easily mess with you or it can easily motivate you,” Cook said. “I’m self-motivated. I can motivate myself and my teammates can motivate me, so I don’t pay attention to it.”

He did acknowledge that if any of the three are able to win the award, it would mean a lot to the conference.

“It’s great for the ACC. It’s really great for our programs,” he said. “We’d all love to win it and bring it back to our programs.”

Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware, who faces Watson in practice and went up against Kaaya and Cook last season, expects all three to be in the mix at the end of the year.

“I think all of them have the opportunity to do it. Everyone knows how good Deshaun is, but I think Dalvin and Kaaya are definitely special talents,” he said, before breaking down what makes Cook and Kaaya so tough.

“Dalvin is a special breed. One-on-one it’s so difficult to bring him down. We knew we had to get 11 hats to the ball on every snap. With Dalvin we had to be in shape to play every snap and guys had to fly around every single play,” Boulware recalled. “With Kaaya, just knowing how intelligent he is as a quarterback and knowing he was probably going to know what defense we were in before we even got out there was hard.”

'I feel like I'm one of the best in the country,' Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson says.

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