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Mid-season gridiron honors in the ACC

I love it when the biggest surprise turns out to be when there is no surprise.

That certainly hasn’t been the case in ACC Football for the first half of the season. Still, there are some half-pole kudos and congratulations that need to be doled out. These are mine, which have been primarily culled from the season statistics so far.

COACH OF THE YEAR

While there’s a strong case for Syracuse’s Dino Babers (more on the Orange later), or David Cutcliffe’s achieving with the talent he has at Duke, I’m throwing my vote to Dabo Swinney of Clemson. Obvious choice you say!?! In some ways, yes, but look how he’s handled the Kelly Bryant-Trevor Lawrence quarterback situation and still kept his team the class of the league. This shows me how solid the Tigers program is.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR

NC State quarterback Ryan Finley gets the nod. Finley has passed for 324.2 yards per game to easily lead the league with four 300-yard games, 10 touchdown passes, and only three interceptions. And I’ll come right out and declare him the successor to Eli Manning once the NY Giants draft him next April. He has a bright future on Sundays, according to Swinney.

“He has complete ownership of what they (the Wolfpack) do,” said Swinney. “He is a very gifted thrower, very accurate; and he has great command of everything they’re doing.”

He’s also a big reason that as of Saturday, State is undefeated.

We’ll also know more when my Coach of the Year and Player of the Year clash later today (Saturday).

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

Let’s pick another quarterback: Bryce Perkins of Virginia. Perkins is tied with Florida State’s Deondre Francois for second in the ACC with 11 touchdown passes. The dual-threat signal-caller and transfer from Arizona State has passed for 1,217 yards and rushed for 402 yards and three scores. He came to Charlottesville last January after leading his junior college football team to the national championship.

“He’s an X-factor,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “He may be the fastest player on his team. He’s big. He’s strong.”

FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR

You’re probably saying I only watch quarterbacks, but here’s another: I go with Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman.

Sure, Lawrence is the obvious choice, but he’s also had some weapons like fellow freshman and Tigers running back Travis Etienne to compete with and keep Clemson on solid ground. In Winston-Salem, Hartman was supposed to be a fill-in while starter Kendall Hinton served a three-game suspension. But he ended up playing well enough to rank fourth in the league with his average of 209.8 yards passing.

Wake gets overlooked in the Atlantic Division, but this kid has made these Demon Deacons a real threat.

MOST SURPRISING TEAM

This one was easy; it had to be Syracuse. The Orange supplanted Wake as my surprise team after coming close to almost going 2-0 against Clemson in back-to-back years. They’re also more competitive than was predicted. ‘The ‘Cuse’ currently stand 4-2, 1-2 in the ACC, and have played beyond expectations. With a little luck they might have been undefeated after following a close 27-23 loss at Clemson with an overtime loss to Pittsburgh. They’re also the last hope left to upset Notre Dame.

UNDERACHIEVERS

Where do you start!?! Louisville and Wake are still looking for their first conference wins, Florida State and Georgia Tech are at or near the bottom of their divisions, and Miami’s coming off a shocking loss at upstart Virginia. For the team honor, my vote goes to Louisville. A drop-off might have been understandable after losing former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, but Coach Bobby Petrino’s team have turned this into more than just an off year beginning with the Alabama debacle. The Cards are 0-4 in ACC games, including a 66-31 home loss to Georgia Tech.

Individually, there are plenty of ‘raspberries’ to choose from, but for as vaunted a threat as he was predicted to be it has to be running back Cam Akers of Florida State. Akers was a preseason all-ACC pick expected to compliment Francois, but he is only averaging 60 yards a game, good for 16th in the conference. Akers also has yet to rush for more than 82 yards in a game.

 

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7011.