Last Thursday at the Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff, Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya was asked about “the excitement level” of being compared to 2015 ACC Player of the Year Deshaun Watson, Clemson’s quarterback.
“He’s a cool dude. Real cool,” Kaaya said, explaining that the two are “good friends,” then elaborating that “you can’t really get into a quarterback vs. quarterback battle, because there are 10 other guys who you have to depend on as a player.’’
The correct comparison, he said, would be quarterbacks to the defenses they face.
On Monday, the ACC released its Football Kickoff Preseason Poll, and Watson overwhelmingly was the choice to repeat as Player of the Year on 164 ballots, with Clemson (14-1 in 2015, national championship runner-up) predicted to win the ACC title on 144 ballots in the poll of 191 media members.
Kaaya was tied for fourth (with Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson) with two votes, and his Hurricanes picked to finish second in the Coastal Division (50 first-place votes and 1,108 points) behind North Carolina (121 and 1,238).
Behind UNC and UM: Pitt (14 and 859), Virginia Tech (three and 697), Duke (two and 597), Georgia Tech (one and 588) and Virginia (261).
Behind Clemson in the Atlantic Division: Florida State (42 and 1,176), Louisville (one and 961), NC State (704), Boston College (441), Syracuse (426) and Wake Forest (347).
UM (8-5 in 2015) has never won the Coastal Division outright.
In 2015, Kaaya threw for 3,238 yards and 16 touchdowns, with five interceptions.
Watson, like Kaaya a junior, earned the Davey O’Brien and Manning Awards as the nation’s top quarterback last season after throwing for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushing for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Both quarterbacks are projected to go in the first round should they enter the NFL Draft after this season.
In mid-May, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. projected Kaaya as the second quarterback and 13th player overall to be drafted should he leave for the NFL after 2016. Kiper projected Watson as the first quarterback to be selected and fourth player overall.
“Kaaya is a talented quarterback with a big arm, touch and growing poise as he reads the whole field,’’ Kiper wrote. “He continues to get better.’’
Sports Illustrated’s SI.com had it the other way around — Kaaya going first overall to the Browns and DeShaun going second to the 49ers.
Either way, 2016 will likely be an exciting season for both.
“It’s cool to see how far we’ve come,’’ Kaaya said. “But me and him both realize that we still have a ways to go, and there are still things that we both want to accomplish in our careers. I don’t think he is buying into his own hype, and I’m not doing the same for mine. He’s a really level-headed guy. I think we’re both motivated by stuff more than that.”