CLEMSON -- Before last year's breakthrough junior season, the most prestigious honor Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper had received was being voted a team captain in high school.
Next in line was an award for a single-game performance.
"They really don't compare to what last season brought me," Harper said with a chuckle. "They seem small and unimportant."
The significance of the honor Harper seems likely to earn this weekend should not be overlooked.
The ACC ceremonially kicks off the season with its annual media days Sunday through Tuesday, held this year at Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga.
Media vote for teams' predicted order of finish as well as for the preseason player of the year and All-ACC squad.
Clemson figures to be labeled the favorite for the league championship.
The reason may be found by scanning the player-of-the-year results.
Based on name recognition, it would not be a stretch to assume Harper's stiffest competition for the honor will be teammate James Davis, a senior running back.
Heather Dinich, who covers the ACC for ESPN.com, believes next in line might be fellow backfield mate C.J. Spiller -- which would make for an unprecedented Tigers trifecta.
"Honestly, the hardest thing for me is deciding between Davis and Spiller," Dinich said. "A lot of people are high on Davis, but the speed Spiller has -- I think the skills he brings are just as invaluable.
"That, for me, is harder than picking Harper over Davis. And the reason you have to go with Harper is the offense is in his hands. What's kind of scary for Tommy Bowden is with all this talent, there is no excuse (for not winning big)."
Clemson has not had the ACC's player of the year since defensive lineman Michael Dean Perry had 10 sacks in 1987.
It has been 29 years since the Tigers last had the top offensive player, when quarterback Steve Fuller won the award in 1977 and '78.
However, Dinich said the possibility of Clemson dominating the voting would be as much a result of the Tigers' firepower as the lack of star power throughout the rest of the ACC.
Wake Forest's Riley Skinner is arguably the league's next-best quarterback, but his numbers (12 TDs, 13 INTs) and impact paled in comparison to Harper's (27 TDs, six INTs) a year ago.
As far as players as the skill positions, Wake Forest sophomore running back Josh Adams (953 yards, 11 TDs), North Carolina receiver Hakeem Nicks (74-958, five TDs) and Maryland junior receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey (51-786, three TDs) have the most cache, yet none come close to the Clemson trio's marquee stature.
Harper makes the argument that Clemson senior receiver Aaron Kelly (88-1,081, 11 TDs) -- on pace to shatter the league's career receptions record -- possesses a more convincing case.
Georgia Tech senior defensive end Michael Johnson and Wake Forest senior cornerback Alphonso Smith are pegged as potentially high NFL draft picks, but a defensive player has garnered the top player award twice since Perry in '87.
"They say preseason awards don't count for anything, but they could speak to the expectations for this team," Harper said.
"We had a good year last year when people didn't know what to expect. Our motto this year has basically been, 'Let's get it.' It applies to the BCS, the ACC championship game, beating Alabama -- which is most important right now."