Item: For the last four ACC football seasons we’ve been one of approximately 50 voters (48 this year), members of ACSMA (Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association), to submit a ballot for the all conference football team. This voting process includes not only picking multiple players at each position, but also selecting a player, coach, and rookie of the year (from one newcomer from each side of the ball). With our criteria consisting of reviewing the media’s pre-season all conference choices, keeping tabs on the players of the week during the season, the nominations emailed out by each school’s media relations staff, and, of course, from covering and watching the games, paying particular attention to this past weekend’s rivalry games to end the regular season, we hemmed and hawed on some choices but produced the mandatory 84 different names on our ballot for the weighted tabulation, including a Syracuse player as the top choice at his position for a second straight year.
With the annual reminder to voters from ACSMA executive director Dave Goren to “do your best to make fair selections,” citing concerns that some voters may show bias to the ACC school they cover (almost 70% of ACSMA members reside in Virginia or North Carolina), and a warning proclaiming “ballots that show extreme bias without support may be discarded,” we completed the process this past Sunday before the 5:00 p.m. EST deadline.
When the results were released 22 hours later Monday afternoon, there was Orange wide receiver Amba Etta-Tawo our choice as the top player at the position, an expectant first team selection, although second in the voting to Clemson’s Mike Williams, our second choice, joined by North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer, also our third choice.
Why did we select Etta-Tawo over Williams, thought to be the better NFL prospect for a team that may again contend for the national championship? Simple, the ‘Cuse one year wonder was the statistical leader in four receiving categories; receptions, receptions average/game, receiving yards/game, and reception touchdowns (tied), and in his final collegiate game went out with a bang scoring five times against Pitt in the wild, almost unthinkable, 76-61 loss last Saturday.
While the offensive and defensive players of the year will not be announced until Wednesday afternoon, we’ll go ahead and tell you that we voted for Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson over Louisville’s Lamar Jackson for first team quarterback and offensive player of the year. Again it was simple. Watson led the Tigers to an 11-1 record with the only mulligan his late interception in the loss to Pittsburgh, and if the Tigers beat Virginia Tech Saturday night in the ACC championship game at Orlando, they’ll have a shot at playing for the national title for the second straight year. Not too shabby.
While Jackson looked unstoppable against Syracuse in early September with his highlight leap of SU defensive back Cordell Hudson gaining all the Heisman hype, the Cardinals dropped their last two, including the Governor’s Cup rivalry game to a 6-5 Kentucky team after Jackson even struck a spontaneous Heisman pose following a fourth quarter score that tied the game, and don’t forget UL fell to Clemson 42-36 on October 1.
As for the other Orange players on the ballot, we voted for Ervin Phillips as third team wide receiver, and in our opinion he was robbed gaining Honorable Mention because he had a better season, and its backed up by the numbers, than choices Artavis Scott of Clemson, James Quick of Louisville, and Miami’s Stacy Coley.
We had SU’s Zaire Franklin as a second team linebacker choice ahead of Wake Forest’s Marquel Lee, but those selections were flip-flopped by the voters. We had Parris Bennett as a third team player, but he was Honorable Mention.
Orange return specialist Brisly Estime was our third team choice which matched the voters, and we blew it on punter Sterling Hofrichter, placing him one spot behind his third team honor by the voters.
The ACSMA offensive and defensive rookies of the year and coach of the year will be announced Tuesday afternoon. Our choices for top newcomers were Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois and Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris.
For coach of the year we chose Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuentes, despite the Hokies game in the Dome. All he did was take over for the legendary Frank Beamer and win a division title.
Joining Watson as our top offensive player, our vote for the player of the year on defense went to Pitt defensive end Ejuan Price. Overall, we matched our ACSMA colleagues on all but four first team choices, two apiece on offensive and defense.