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Can Marquise Williams Win ACC Player of the Year?

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Last Thursday night, Marquise Williams put together another dual threat performance throwing for 276 yards, rushing for 98 more and accounting for four touchdowns in UNC's 45-20 win over Duke. On Monday Williams was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week for a fourth time putting the Charlotte junior in the middle of the race for ACC Player of the Year

The Stats

Here is how Williams stacks up against the other three likely candidates for Player of the Year honors.

Player Games Pass Yards YPG Comp. % YPA Rush Yards YPG YPA Rec. Yards YPG YPC Total Offense TO Per Game YPP Rush TDs Pass TDs Rec. TDs
James Conner 11 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1600 145.45 6.13 30 2.7 7.5 1600 145.45 6.13 22 0 0
Duke Johnson 11 N/A N/A N/A N/A 1431 130.09 7.16 354 32.2 11.8 1431 130.09 7.16 10 0 2
Marquise Williams 11 2778 252.5 63.4% 7.5 721 65.5 4.45 17 1.5 8.5 3499 318.1 6.59 10 22 1
Jameis Winston 10 3125 312.5 66.0% 8.5 59 5.9 1.44 N/A N/A N/A 3184 318.4 7.78 3 19 0

All four players have posted some ridiculous numbers at different points this season. James Conner has rushed for over 200 yards three times and scored four touchdowns in a game twice. Duke Johnson's worst rushing game is 88 yards against Virginia. He had a streak of six straight 100 yard games prior to that including 249 yards against Virginia Tech and 179 yards against UNC.

On the quarterback side, Jameis Winston and Marquise Williams are very close with Winston having a clear advantage in passing offense. Winston has thrown for over 300 yards in five games including 401 yards versus one of the nation's best defenses in Louisville.  Winston has completed 66% of his passes and averaging over 300 yards per game. One knock against Winston is 13 interceptions which second worst among ACC quarterbacks.

Williams passing hasn't been nearly as prolific as Winston's at 252.5 yards per game. Williams does have three games over 300 yards passing, two games with four touchdown passes and has taken care of the ball tossing just eight interceptions. On the season Williams has just one game with multiple interceptions. The only other game Williams recorded multiple turnovers was against Duke when he fumbled three times. Where Williams falls short in passing the football he makes up in running it. The Charlotte junior is averaging 62.5 yards per game rushing the football and has two 100 yard rushing games.

The combination of Williams passing and rushing has him and Winston virtually tied in total offense per game at 318 yards per game. In terms of touchdown responsibility, Williams leads the ACC with 33 touchdowns(20 passing, 12 rushing and one receiving.) His overall versatility has him in some elite company according to ESPN.

Williams’ 33 touchdowns this season are the seventh-most by any player in the country, trailing only Oregon's Marcus Mariota, Ohio State's J.T. Barrett, Notre Dame's Everett Golson and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott among Power 5 QBs.

Williams and Prescott are the only quarterbacks in the nation with at least 2,500 passing yards, 700 rushing yards, 20 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs. In fact, in the last decade, only seven other Power 5 quarterbacks have done that: Vince Young, Tim Tebow, Cam Newton, James Franklin, Taylor Martinez, Brett Hundley and Johnny Manziel.

The names on that list show just how special the season Williams has had since three of those players won the Heisman Trophy. Then again, so did Jameis Winston.

The Case

With due respect to Conner and Johnson, who have both had incredible seasons, the race for ACC Player of the Year probably comes down to Williams and Winston. The fact both are quarterbacks gives both players a huge boost since their respective teams depend more on them than Pitt and Miami depend on Conner and Johnson respectively. Winston and Williams' portion of their respective teams total offense is north of 71% which outpaces the two running backs in this discussion.

Given that Winston and Williams are so very close in total offense numbers, the voting for ACC Player of the Year may come down to which voting philosophy a voter follows.  Some voters go with picking the best player period, regardless of other factors like team performance. Others will use "best player on the best team" which somewhat falsely gives a player a boost based on the overall performance of the team, including factors the player in question has no control over. There is also the notion that this award is based on which player is more valuable to his team.

The stats are essentially a dead heat in terms of declaring one player better than the other. Then again there are some factors that make Williams stats even more impressive. In comparing Williams and Winston it should be noted, Winston has a much better supporting cast around him. UNC has operated this season with Williams as the team's leading rusher and passer. Any semblance of an offensive attack is rooted first and foremost in Williams' ability to both run the football and operate the passing game. UNC has had just one game this season where a player rushed for more than 100 yards who wasn't named Marquise Williams. T.J. Logan had 116 yards against Duke and has bushed close to that number two other times. Aside from Elijah Hood's 71 yards versus Clemson, Williams has done most of the work in both phases of the Tar Heel offense. Williams has done some heavy lifting whereas Winston has had the luxury to lean on players like Karlos Williams and Dalvin Cook to run the football.

While Winston will undoubtedly garner votes because FSU wins, that argument ignores the fact that UNC has probably lost 2-3 games thanks to a historically awful defense. UNC has registered losses while Williams led the offense to scoring 43, 41 and 35 points. In those games the defense gave up 70, 50 and 50. UNC is 6-5 with a shot at becoming 7-5 if the Tar Heels can beat NC State. Those seven wins rest largely on the broad shoulders on Marquise Williams and had his offense been paired with some semblance of a defense, perhaps the win total could be higher. In short, Williams shouldn't be penalized because UNC lost games because the defense fell short.

As for the most valuable player argument, that is a rather tough hair to split since both Williams and Winston have made plays to push their respective teams to wins. Williams most notable moments in this regard are game winning drives against Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh. Winston's play against Notre Dame, Louisville and Miami in rallying FSU is a credit in his ledger though some of his miscues also contributed to the early holes dug in those games.

The Vote

In all likelihood Jameis Winston will repeat as a First Team All-ACC quarterback, ACC Offensive Player of the Year and grab a second straight league Player of the Year award. He is a returning Heisman Trophy winner and while Williams has been very good, there isn't enough difference in the numbers to knock Winston off that perch.

The fact both players play the same position makes splitting the vote a tad difficult. Winston is likely to be tapped as for the first team in All-ACC voting with Williams getting the second team nod. That vote gives Winston an inside track for the other two awards on the premise that you a second team quarterback can't surpass the first team quarterback for overall league awards. That being said, it wouldn't be illogical for give Williams the ACC Offensive Player of the Year award simply because he has been responsible for more touchdowns and his offensive production has been dual threat in nature. Winston could still win the overall player of the year award under the "best player on the best team" reasoning. In essence, Williams can be rewarded for his overall offensive production while Winston could take the league's top honor.

Given how the voting for these awards go, I doubt it will be that nuanced. Williams' individual play should earn him some sort of recognition. The reality of the conference award voting which often defaults to certain narratives means Williams will most likely be left out.