As we approach Week Eight of the college football season, most teams across the ACC have officially reached the midway point of their schedules. Given everything that has happened so far, from the out of conference schedules to the beginning of conference play, we decided as a staff here at InsideTheACC to answer some questions about the state of the conference this season to the best of our abilities through the first half of the year. In the first of a two-part series, Mike McDaniel, Justin Cates, and Jeff Greenberg give their insight as they best see it from around the ACC.
Through seven weeks of ACC football…..
1) Who is the ACC Offensive Player of the Year?
Cates: Yeah Lamar is clearly the guy here, but I want to give a mention to Syracuse’s Eric Dungey and Amba Etta-Tawo. Dungey is fourth nationally in passing yards with 2,197 and he’s tossed 12 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Six of those have gone to Etta-Tawo who is second in the land in receiving with 930 yards in 53 catches. Those two have become a dominant duo and are very worthy of honors.
Greenberg: Considering he has scored more touchdowns at this point in the season than some teams have as a whole, I have go with Louisville’s Lamar Jackson. On his “bad” night, he still rushed for over 100 yards and had 2 touchdowns. He’s the Heisman front-runner halfway through the season and he’s my ACC Offensive POY.
McDaniel: It’s Lamar Jackson hands down at this point. In his worst games he is only merely contained, and even then he has made massive impacts offensively. Through his team’s first six games, Jackson has 30 total touchdowns, with 15 through the air, and 15 on the ground. Jackson has shown off not only his elite ability as a rusher from the quarterback position, but his improved passing mechanics as well. Look for Jackson to continue making big plays in the second half of the season for the Cardinals, as they push for an outside chance at the College Football Playoff.
2) Who is the ACC Defensive Player of the Year?
Cates: Ejuan Price is of course the correct answer, but again I’ll also give props to an under-the-radar player. Louisville’s Drew Bailey has also proven to be a disruptive defensive lineman with 26 tackles including 4.5 tackles for loss. 11 of those tackles came in the close win over Duke, but Bailey is quickly improving.
Greenberg: At the midway point in the season my pick for ACC Defensive POY is Pittsburgh’s Ejuan Price. He is leading the ACC in sacks(9) and TFLs(13). He is a disruptive force even when faced with constant double-teams this season on an underperforming Panthers’ defense. Price is headed for obscene season totals if he keeps up his current pace.
McDaniel: For me, it has to be Pittsburgh defensive lineman Ejuan Price. Price leads the ACC in sacks and tackles for loss, and has helped Pittsburgh develop into one of the nation’s sixth-best run defense. The passing defense has been a sore spot and has hindered the Pittsburgh defense as a whole from being all that it can be, but Price has been consistently great, providing Pat Narduzzi with little lost sleep when teams attempt to run on the Panthers.
3) Who is the ACC Coach of the Year?
Cates: Dino Babers. I’m not giving the Orange all this credit based solely on last week’s upset win over Virginia Tech. Babers has made an immediate impact on the Orange offense, but few expected any meaningful results in his first season in charge.
Greenberg: This is a tough call right now. If Virginia Tech would have taken care of business in the Carrier Dome, I would have gone with Justin Fuente. If Miami would have beaten UNC, I would have picked Mark Richt. Right now, at this point in the conference season, I’d have to go with UNC’s Larry Fedora. They just completed a tough gauntlet of Pitt, at FSU, VT, at Miami. The Tar Heels came out of that stretch 3-1. For the first time in school history they beat 2 ranked teams on the road in the same season. Those wins were at FSU and at Miami, a rare Florida Two-Step. They’ve now won 8 straight road games and 11 out of their last 12 regular season ACC games. There’s a lot of football left, and I’m looking at you Louisville, but I give the edge to Fedora…for now.
McDaniel: Raise your hand if you had Wake Forest at 5-2 through seven games this season. I certainly didn’t. Dave Clawson is my ACC Coach of the Year this point, but an argument can me made for both Dave Doeren at NC State, or Justin Fuente at Virginia Tech as well. All three coaches have been extremely impressive, but given the expectations and overall talent level top-to-bottom compared to other teams in the ACC, I give Clawson and Wake Forest the edge heading into Week Eight.
4) Which team has been the most pleasant surprise?
Cates: The depth of the conference is something unexpected to be sure. Even teams like Boston College and Duke that sit at the bottom of the standings have been competitive in ACC games — remember when BC almost beat Georgia Tech? Yeah, me neither. Still, there are a lot of dangerous teams in this league and upsets down the stretch will be no surprise.
Greenberg: Virginia Tech is my easy pick for biggest surprise. Hokies fans were ready to be patient with new head coach Justin Fuente, but now he has them excited for a return to glory in year one. Yes, they took a stumble last week at Syracuse, but they still control their own destiny in seeking another Coastal Division title thanks to a huge win at UNC two weeks ago. The Hokies defense looks good overall. The offense has play-makers making plays again. And most importantly, Fuente has his players and fans believing again.
McDaniel: To piggyback off of the answer to the last question, it has to be Wake Forest for me. The Demon Deacons have found a way to become one of the more underrated defensive units in the ACC, and have established an adequate rushing attack to boot. Because of this, Wake is now in excellent position to make their first bowl game since the 2011 season, which will be huge for their recruiting plans for 2017 and beyond.
5) Which team has been the biggest disappointment?
Cates: Georgia Tech. A lot of folks expected a bounce back season and while that’s still possible, it’s clear that the program is trending in the wrong direction. This crew was in the ACC championship game three seasons ago and now it’s struggling to beat Boston College and Georgia Southern. Paul Johnson has come full circle in a bad way.
Greenberg: Florida State is by far the biggest disappointment in the ACC. They were picked in the Top 5 in the preseason and considered a serious contender for the College Football Playoff. Midway through the season and they’re sitting here with two losses and sitting 3rd behind Clemson and Louisville in the Atlantic Division. There were questions about how their freshman quarterback would lead the team, but the surprise has been the sub-par performance to date of their defense. After getting blown out by Louisville, the Seminoles gave up a ton of points at home in their loss to UNC. They can salvage some respect with a win over Clemson, but this is the not the season FSU envisioned when the season started 7 weeks ago.
McDaniel: Since they already have two losses, the easy answer to this is Florida State, given the lofty expectations laid out in front of them prior to the season. However, since they still have Clemson left on their schedule and could still emerge as one of the best two-loss teams of the country, I’m unsure that they are the real disappointment of the conference. In my opinion, the conference’s most disappointing team to date would have to be Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are just two seasons removed from a 10-win season, and after a three-win campaign in 2015, I expected a bit more fight out of the offense to start the season this year. Paul Johnson’s squad sits at just 1-3 in the ACC to date, and 4-3 overall. Missed opportunities both offensively and defensively contributed to the Miami and Pittsburgh losses, while the Clemson loss proved that the GT offense was thoroughly outmatched.
Although the team is just two wins away from bowl eligibility, the remaining schedule is not easy, as the team still must face Duke, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia. Sure, they could theoretically grab two wins from the trio of Duke, Virginia, and Georgia, but what consistency has there been to fully warrant that assumption? With the lack of a great start, and the potential tough sledding ahead, only time will tell what kind of season the Jackets will end up having.
Thanks for reading, and make sure to check out Part Two of our Midseason Staff Roundtable later this week! Follow us on Twitter @jeffgberg, @MikeMcDanielACC, and @BestCates and follow @InsideTheACC for more Atlantic Coast Conference coverage.