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2016 ACC Championships and Awards Preview

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So who’s gonna win the ACC?

NCAA Football: ACC Football Championship Game-Clemson vs North Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Countdown to Kickoff: 46 Days

So now that we have examined both the Coastal Division (Link) and the Atlantic Division (Other Link), it’s time to take a look at what’s going to happen as a conference altogether. For this preview, I’ll be looking at who I think will win the conference and then give away a few superlative awards.

Before we take a look at the Conference Championship Match-up, let’s take a look back at the final conference standings:

Coastal Division

Place Team Conference Record
1 Pittsburgh 6-2
T-2 Georgia Tech 5-3
T-2 Miami 5-3
4 UNC 4-4
T-5 Duke 3-5
T-5 Virginia Tech 3-5
7 Virginia 2-6

Atlantic Division

Place Team Conference Record
1 Clemson 8-0
2 Louisville 7-1
3 Florida State 6-2
4 Boston College 3-5
T-5 Syracuse 2-6
T-5 NC State 2-6
7 Wake Forest 0-8

A conference championship match-up featuring a rematch of Clemson and Pittsburgh would be a very fun game to watch. In this scenario, Clemson would most likely be fighting for one of the top seeds in the College Football Playoff, while Pitt is fighting to get one of the biggest upsets of the season. It would be a fantastic game, as I think Pat Narduzzi and the Pitt defense would be able to do a number on Deshaun Watson and the Clemson offense, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see this Clemson team being stopped by anybody in the ACC. I imagine this game being very close at the end of the first half, and possibly even tied or with Pitt in the lead, but as Clemson continued to fight, they would eventually break away and win this game by at least 10 points. I feel like they have the better depth to win the marathon that this game could prove to be.

ACC Champions: Clemson

So now that we have a champion, let’s take a look at some of my predicted award winners:

Offensive Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson

Y’all knew this one was coming. Watson is one of the best, if not the best, players in all of football right now. It’s his award to lose.

Other possibilities: James Conner (HB, Pitt)

Defensive Player of the Year: Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh

One of the reasons I like Pitt to make the ACC Championship this year is because of its defense, and that all starts right up front with a solid group that is led by Ejuan Price. Price had a fantastic year last year, finishing with 19.5 tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, a fumble returned for a touchdown, a forced fumble and a blocked kick. He also finished third for ACC Defensive Player of the Year last year. If he can stay healthy like last season, I think he eclipses these numbers.

Other possibilities: Cordrea Tankersley (CB, Clemson), Devonte Fields (OLB, Louisville)

Coach of the Year: Pat Narduzzi, Pittsburgh

I went back and forth between Narduzzi and Dabo Swinney for this award, but I ultimately decided to go with Narduzzi because I feel like it will be more difficult for him and the Pitt Panthers to get to where I have them predicted. At this point, everyone knows that Clemson is going to be in the ACC Championship again, and very likely the College Football Playoff, but even looking at some of the comments from my Coastal Preview yesterday, not a whole lot of people are expecting Pitt to make this kind of jump. And if they do, I think Narduzzi is your coach of the year.

Other Possibilities: Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Bobby Petrino (Louisville)

New Coach of the Year: Mark Richt, Miami

So this isn’t a real award, but I figured that since there are so many new coaches in the ACC this year, it would be fun to pick the one that I think will have the best inaugural season with their new team. Richt was the easy choice, mostly because I think he ended up with the easiest job of the ones available, thus making him the most likely to have a really good season. He already has a very established quarterback with some pretty solid playmakers and a decent defense.

Other Possibilities: Dino Babers (Syracuse), Bronco Mendenhall (Virginia), Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech)