With the top two finishers from 2011 (David Wilson and Luke Kuechly) departing, the ACC Player of the Year Award is anyone's for the taking in 2012.
There are a number of solid players returning for the top-tier ACC teams, along with a group of highly-touted newcomers looking to be the next Sammy Watkins.
After parsing through the large group of candidates, here are the five players that have the best odds of taking home the ACC's top individual award in 2012.
After struggling early in his first season as the Virginia Tech Hokies' starting quarterback, Logan Thomas came on strong at the end of the year. In the last nine games, Thomas threw for 15 touchdowns with only five interceptions, while also rushing for 10 touchdowns.
Another year's experience could vault Thomas into the category of elite quarterbacks in college football. With his size, arm strength, and touch, he has the potential to be a starting quarterback in the NFL someday soon.
He will likely face some difficulties with the Hokies losing David Wilson, Jarrett Boykin, and Danny Coale, but Virginia Tech has other playmakers ready to step up. And the loss of those three will make Thomas the man in the Hokie offense.
Sammy Watkins was perhaps the best freshman in all of college football last season. Watkins had 82 receptions for 1,219 yards and 12 touchdowns during his rookie campaign.
The Clemson Tigers expect even bigger things from the explosive wide receiver in 2012. Watkins will have All-ACC quarterback Tajh Boyd throwing to him again next season and the experience of having played a year at the college level.
Watkins finished third last year in the voting for ACC Player of the Year and thus will be the favorite next year with David Wilson and Luke Kuechly heading to the NFL.
Tajh Boyd had the opposite season of Logan Thomas in 2011, starting out extremely well, but fading as the season progressed. Boyd threw for 15 touchdowns with only two interceptions in the Clemson Tigers' first six games, but threw 10 picks with only 18 touchdowns in their last eight.
There are high expectations for Boyd in 2012, and the coaches are apparently not willing to accept the same mistakes from him this year. If Boyd can play the entire season at the level he played in the beginning of 2011, he could runaway with the ACC Player of the Year award. However, he will have the disadvantage of having another leading candidate for the award (Sammy Watkins) playing on the same team.
2011 was undoubtedly a disappointing season for the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles entered the season with expectations of an ACC Title and a place in the BCS Championship discussion, and then they lost three games in a row in September and October.
However, the Seminoles and especially quarterback EJ Manuel came on strong at the end of the year. While leading Florida State to seven wins in their last eight games, Manuel threw for 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions.
A big comeback victory in the Champs Sports Bowl against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish could be the momentum shifter the Seminoles need to make the expectations of 2011 a reality in 2012. If Manuel keeps improving (and stays healthy), he will be in the discussion with Tajh Boyd and Logan Thomas.
Giovani Bernard came back strong from the knee injury that cost him a full season in 2010 last year with 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also had 362 yards and a touchdown through the air.
With quarterback Bryn Renner returning as well (after a surprisingly good season with 3,086 yards, 26 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions), the Tar Heel offense could be potent next year.
While Renner's solid play could take away from Bernard's touches, I think more likely it will have the positive effect of opening things up for the running game. With a balanced offense, Bernard could have an even better season than he did in his freshman year (which saw him reach the All-ACC first team).