The Washington Times - July 21, 2008, 11:44AM

GREENSBORO, Ga. – The ACC preseason player of the year will be announced later today, and chances are Clemson’s Cullen Harper will be a runaway favorite.

This makes sense. Harper is the returning quarterback of a team nearly everyone believes will win the league and even more people believe is the most talented bunch in the conference.

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So it wouldn’t be any fun to make an easy choice. Instead of parroting everyone else, this “prediction” is more like a road map for how someone a little more off-the-wall (though still very talented) can collect this award.

And that off-the-wall choice is Virginia Tech’s Victor “Macho” Harris.

OK, it’s only off-the-wall because he’s a defensive player. But he’s a defensive player who will return kicks and perhaps even play a little offense for the receiver-needy Hokies. And that’s one big thing going in his favor from the start.

The next is figuring out who Clemson’s biggest star will be. If the Tigers’ running game does dominate like some think, then tailbacks James Davis and C.J. Spiller could put up far gaudier numbers than does Harper.

But if Clemson struggles – say, to the tune of three losses – in part because of a rebuilt offensive line that doesn’t rebuild fast enough, then all three of the Tigers’ stars will probably lose a perception battle because their numbers (and their team’s record) wouldn’t match up to expectations.

Here’s something else to remember. Sportswriters are notorious for rewarding the “best player on the best (or nearly best) team” rather than the best player, period. Since 1997, the ACC’s player of the year has come from a team that finished in the top two with ties (pre-expansion) or won a division all but three times.

One was Torry Holt from N.C. State in 1998. The second was N.C. State’s Philip Rivers in 2003. The third was Wake Forest’s Chris Barclay in 2005.

Virginia Tech probably ought to win its division, and will probably need its standard stellar play on defense and special teams to do so. If that happens, Harris will probably be a big part of it – and a definite candidate for overall player and defensive player of the year.

A couple other picks:

Offensive player of the year: Let’s play a little game here.

 Comp.AttemptsYardsComp. Pct.
TDINTEfficiency
Player A
388654450759.33119127.0
Player B
282433299165.1276

141.0

You might remember Player A as a Heisman Trophy candidate last season who ultimately became the Atlanta Falcons’ choice to replace the former proprietor of Bad Newz Kennels as the face of the franchise. Player B is Cullen Harper.

Yes, the schemes are different between Boston College and Clemson. It doesn’t change the reality Harper was about as good as Ryan was last year. He just didn’t have two well-timed touchdown passes against Virginia Tech on a Thursday night, and didn’t have the good fortune to play on a team that entered November undefeated.

Harper might not be quite as good as he was last season; that TD-INT ratio in particular can’t get much better. But he’s ultra-valuable to Clemson if the Tigers are going to make it to the ACC title game and beyond.

Rookie of the year: Boston College tailback Josh Haden. He’ll have plenty of chances to roll up big numbers with the Eagles’ backfield lacking any established options.

Coach of the year: Is the coach of the year the guy whose team improves the most? The guy who most exceeds expectations? The guy whose team wins the conference? Or the guy who is, well, the best coach?

The projected answers to each of those questions this year are North Carolina’s Butch Davis, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, Virginia Tech’s Frank Beamer and Wake Forest’s Jim Grobe.

You can never, ever go wrong with Jim Grobe as the ultimate answer to this question.

Patrick Stevens