ACC notebook: It’s time for the midseason awards
It’s officially halftime of the college football season, which means it’s time to grab a seat, kick the mud off the cleats and take a look back at all the craziness that was the first six weeks of football in the ACC.
So far Al Golden still has a job, but as the weather gets colder his seat gets warmer. Meanwhile, Atlantic Division rivals No. 6 Clemson and No. 9 Florida remain red-hot.
So far this season has been packed with plenty of “did-you-see-that moments” and heartbreaking “I-can’t-believe-that-just-happened” plays. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at the best and worst of the half year.
Deshaun Watson, Clemson, QB, So.
The undisputed leader of the highest ranked team in the ACC, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson gets the midseason MVP nod over Florida State’s Dalvin Cook by a razor-thin margin.
So far this year the sophomore signal-caller is fourth in the conference in passing yards (1,410) and leads the league in TD tosses with 14 and has shown an uncanny ability to make clutch plays.
Cook, a fellow sophomore, has had a remarkable year and is fifth in the country in rushing yards (955), while his 11 rushing TDs ranks 11th.
The difference: the schedule. Watson has led the No. 6 Tigers to wins over two teams that either are or have been ranked in Notre Dame and Georgia Tech, while No. 9 FSU is yet to face an opponent that’s had a number next to its name.
Freshman of the (half) year:
Qadree Ollison, Pitt, RB
Pitt running back Qadree Ollison was thrust into the starting role when Panthers All-American running back James Conner sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 and the freshman has done his best to mimic the 2014 ACC Player of the Year.
Ollison became one of only four freshman in Pitt history to run for over 200 yards in a game when he galloped for 207 yards and a score in a 45-38 win over Youngstown State. The 6-2, 230-pound freshman ranks fourth in the ACC in rushing (559) and is a big reason why the No. 25 Panthers are leading the Coastal Division.
Biggest surprise (team):
No. 25 Pitt Panthers (5-1, 3-0)
Nobody was quite sure what to expect from Pitt this year under first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi, but the former Michigan State defensive coordinator has the Panthers prowling at the halfway point.
Despite losing Conner in the first game, Pitt has only one loss, a 27-24 defeat at Iowa, which is undefeated, and has racked up three straight ACC wins.
The key for the Panthers has been the play of their defense, which has allowed them to get by with an offense that ranks 11th in the ACC in scoring (27.2 ppg).
Biggest surprise (player):
Lamar Jackson, Louisville, QB, Fr.
After surviving a game of musical quarterbacks, Lamar Jackson isn’t just the present quarterback for Louisville, he’s the future.
The 6-3, 196 pound freshman was said to be faster than 2014 Heisman trophy winner Marcus Mariota and is one of the best athletes in the ACC.
Jackson has already broken Louisville’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback and is the ACC’s seventh-leading rusher with 467 yards.
The young passer also comes equipped with a strong arm, and has completed 54.5 percent of his passes for 905 yards and six touchdowns.
Biggest disappointment (team):
Georgia Tech (2-5, 0-4)
The defending Coastal Division champion Yellow Jackets began the season ranked 16th in the AP Poll and won their first two games of the year by a combined score of 134-16. However, Tech fell off a cliff once it lost its Week 3 showdown with then-ranked No. 8 Notre Dame.
The Yellow Jackets have not won a game since that 30-22 defeat at the hands of the Fighting Irish and find themselves in last place in the Coastal Division having been outscored 146-103 by ACC opponents on the season.
Biggest disappointment (player):
Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech, Jr.
He was supposed to be the guy who led Georgia Tech to another Coastal Division crown and quite possibly a trip to the College Football Playoffs, but none of that is an option for the leader of the Yellow Jackets triple-option offense.
Last year, Thomas ran for 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns, while throwing for 1,719 yards and 18 scores. This year, Thomas is a long way from matching his rushing production as he arrives at the midway point in the year with just 312 rushing yards.
Virginia’s heartbreaker against Notre Dame
The underdog Cavaliers held a 27-26 lead over No. 9 Notre Dame with less than a minute left in the fourth quarter but could not close out the contest. Fighting Irish backup quarterback DeShone Kizer launched a 39-yard strike to wide receiver Will Fuller with 12 seconds showing on the clock to take a 34-27 victory over Virginia and rob it of its upset bid.
A feel-good win like that could have supplied the Cavs with a much-needed morale boost and cooled off the perpetually hot seat of head coach Mike London. Instead, Virginia stands at 2-4 (1-1) midway through the year.
Most viral moment
Clemson had followed up its thrilling 24-22 victory over Notre Dame with a solid 43-24 win over Georgia Tech to remain undefeated, yet Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney still had to field a question about “Clemsoning.”
Needless to say, Swinney was not a fan of the question and responded with what might be the best rant of the entire college football season.
Best play of the year:
Syracuse’s converts fake field goal versus LSU
Syracuse knew it would take a little bit of trickery and a lot of luck to beat No. 8 LSU this year, so with that in mind head coach Scott Shafer rolled the dice on a fake 46-yard field goal attempt. The result: A first down and one of the best plays of the year.
Syracuse kicker Riley Dixon took a pitch from the holder and proceeded to hurdle over an LSU defender to pick up a fresh set of downs before he accidently punched a Tigers player in the back of the head when he pumped his fist with excitement.
Syracuse would lose game 34-24, but it the play remains one of the best of his half season.
Worst play of the year:
Time runs out on Boston College
Trailing 3-0 with under 30 seconds left in the game, Boston College forced and recovered a Wake Forest fumble and took possession of the ball at the Deacons 1-yard line. BC coach Steve Addazio attempted to win the game on first down by handing the ball off to running back Tyler Rouse. However, he would not cross the goal line and the Eagles, who had no timeouts remaining, could not line up in time to spike the ball and attempt a field goal as BC fell 3-0 to the Deacons.
Best game left on the calendar:
No. 9 Florida State at No. 6 Clemson, Nov. 17
Assuming Florida State and Clemson are still undefeated when they meet in Death Valley, this game will serve as a virtual playoff and Atlantic Division championship elimination game. Can’t get much better than that.
Player to watch out for in the second half
Everett Golson, Florida State, QB, Sr.
Everett Golson transferred to Florida State late in fall camp and so far has done a nice job operating Jimbo Fisher’s offense in the first six weeks of the season. He will do even better the next six.
On the year, the senior has completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,449 passing yards and 11 touchdowns, both of which rank second in the ACC.
Even more impressive, the former Notre Dame QB is yet to throw a pick, making him the first Seminoles slinger in school history to have not thrown an interception after the first five games of the year.
As the season grows, so will Golson’s mastery of the FSU offense, which could be just what the Seminoles need to get back to the College Football Playoffs.
Who makes the CFP Final Four:
1: Ohio State
4: Florida State
Team most likely to get passed over for a CFP spot:
Utah will go on to win the Pac-12 but it will not have enough cache with the College Football Playoff panel to score an invite to the Final Four.