With the exception of two makeup games for NC State and Virginia Tech, this past weekend marked the end of the regular season for the Atlantic Coast Conference, making it a good time to hand out some postseason awards.
We start off by naming our ACC Coach of the Year award. Our four finalists this year are Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Pat Narduzzi (Pittsburgh), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia), and Dino Babers (Syracuse).
Here are the cases for and against each coach:
Dabo Swinney: Clemson
THE CASE FOR: The Tigers are once again the cream of the crop in the ACC with a perfect 12-0 record and an unblemished 8-0 ACC record. Aside from a narrow 28-26 win against then-No. 22 Texas A&M and 27-23 escape against Syracuse, Clemson has steamrolled the competition, winning on average by 30.8 points. That’s good for second in the FBS behind a team you may have heard of—Alabama. He’s done all this while surviving a quarterback controversy with incumbent starter Kelly Bryant announcing a transfer midseason after losing the starting job to Trevor Lawrence.
THE CASE AGAINST: It’s all a matter of expectations. Clemson received 145 of 148 first place votes in the ACC Preseason Poll and has been to three straight College Football Playoffs. The Tigers were expected to breeze through conference play, and that’s exactly what happened. To paraphrase Chris Rock, you don’t get credit for doing what you’re supposed to do.
Pat Narduzzi: Pittsburgh
THE CASE FOR: The Panthers won the Coastal Division outright, emerging from conference play with a 6-2 record. That defied most expectations, as Pitt was picked to finished fifth in the Coastal behind Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke, all teams they beat.
THE CASE AGAINST: Pitt’s two conference losses were to cellar dweller North Carolina and then an embarrassing 24-3 loss to Miami to close out the regular season. Pitt also didn’t look stellar against Notre Dame or Penn State in its non-conference slate.
Bronco Mendenhall: Virginia
THE CASE FOR: Virginia, like Syracuse, was picked to finish dead last in its decision, in what many perceived to be a rebuilding year. Instead, the Cavaliers finished a surprising third in the division, and was actually favored to win the chaotic Coastal at the beginning of November. The Cavs shocked Miami in mid-October, getting its sixth win and bowl eligibility before the close of the month before fading down the stretch.
THE CASE AGAINST: Virginia dropped three of its last four games, falling in overtime to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech in its last two games. The Cavs also dropped an early non-conference game to Indiana, which finished just 5-7 overall and 2-7 in the Big 10.
Dino Babers: Syracuse
THE CASE FOR: Syracuse has not been to a bowl game since 2013 and had not been ranked since 2001. For that matter, the Orange had not beaten Florida State since 1966 or ever won six ACC games. All of those marks fell during Syracuse’s historic season where the Orange went 9-3 overall and 6-2 in the ACC.
THE CASE AGAINST: The Orange led late, but couldn’t close out wins against Pitt and Clemson on the road. Syracuse was also shellacked by Notre Dame at Yankee Stadium in the Shamrock Series.
OUR PICK: Yes, there’s a bit of homerism at play, but objectively, it’s hard to make an argument against our pick, Dino Babers. The Orange program, which hasn’t been relevant in nearly 20 years, is now back on the map and had the Orange ranked as high as 12th in the CFP rankings.