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ESPN.com cites two Panthers as Heisman hopefuls

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN.com continued its offseason coverage this week and looked at potential Heisman candidates in the ACC.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and Florida State running back Dalvin Cook are named the frontrunners with Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya potentially in the mix as well. A few Pitt players found themselves getting some recognition as well.

Running back James Conner, of course, was one of those. The other? Safety Jordan Whitehead. Obviously, while both are exceptional players that could contend for conference awards, a Heisman run by either seems unlikely.

Conner put together a monster season two years ago and while he's proven capable of posting the big numbers needed for such a campaign, there are too many variables. For one thing, we don't know how soon he'll return as he recovers from a Hodgkin Lymphoma diagnosis. He reportedly had targeted the team's ACC opener against North Carolina as a potential return date. However, even if he were able to accomplish that, it would mean he would have missed three games, including a season opener against Villanova - a chance to post some gaudy numbers to get his campaign off to a fast start and get some early recognition. None of that even addresses the possibility (or even, probability) that it may take him several games to get going or even how he will react to returning after missing a full season.

Whitehead's run seems even less likely. ESPN.com makes an interesting point in that he will likely play some on offense, helping a potential campaign (and without Tyler Boyd, he could even spend considerable time on that unit). But defensive players, particularly those in the secondary have a very hard time gaining much traction. Unless he becomes an absolute two-way star (think, like, 1,000 all-purpose yards on offense), I don't see even the slightest possibility.

The best argument against both players, perhaps, is that Pitt would need to have a huge season as a team for either to get a ton of respect and they aren't projected by most to do that. The Conner return from cancer has put him in the national spotlight, so that helps him tremendously. Still, it seems like a difficult battle for either player to get strong consideration if Pitt is 7-5, 8-4, etc. Consider Conner's huge 2014, after all. He didn't even get a sniff with a 1,765-yard campaign while breaking the touchdown mark at Pitt with 26.

In other words, not happening.

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