Pitt RB James Conner voted ACC player of year; Clemson's Beasley is top defensive player



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Clemson's Vic Beasley sacks South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson causing a fumble recovered by Clemson during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)


GREENSBORO, North Carolina — Pittsburgh running back James Conner's career as a defensive end is likely over.

The sophomore was named the Atlantic Coast Conference's player of the year on Wednesday following a breakout season in which the 6-foot-2, 250-pound back led the league in rushing and set a school record for touchdowns in a season.

Conner received 16 of 55 votes cast by members of the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association — three more than Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, last year's winner.

Not bad for a player who expected to spend time on both sides of the ball coming into the season. The experiment as a two-way player ended before it began. Conner ran for 213 yards against Boston College on Sept. 5 and never let up. He ended up making a brief cameo at end midway through the year before the plan was scuttled for good.

"Things change over time," Conner said with a laugh. "Stuff happens, you've just got to go with the flow."

In voting results released Wednesday by the league, Conner also was picked as its offensive player of the year while Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley was selected as the defensive player of the year.

Beasley, who was third in overall voting with eight votes, had 24 votes for the defensive award.

Conner paced the conference and ranks sixth nationally with an average of 139.6 yards rushing. He also scored an ACC-leading 144 points while rushing for a school-record 24 touchdowns, smashing the mark set by former Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett.

Though Conner topped 200 yards three times, he considers his best performance his final one. His right hip ailing entering the season finale against Miami, Conner ran for 75 yards and two scores while helping Pitt (6-6) pull a mild upset to become bowl eligible.

He pointed to former teammate Aaron Donald for inspiration. Donald won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season before becoming a first-round NFL draft pick.

"It lets people know that we can compete with anybody in this league," Conner said. "We just want to keep going."

Beasley had ACC bests of 11 sacks and 18.5 tackles for losses, and leads all active players in the Bowl Subdivision with 32 career sacks.

"He came back for his senior year to graduate, and to have a great season and improve as an all-around player," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "He has done that — he is a complete player. ... He is the best defensive player in the ACC, and I really feel he is the best defensive player in the nation."

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