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2015 ACC Championship and Awards Preview

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So how will the events of a full season play out?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

If you read by ACC Coastal and Atlantic division breakdowns, you will know that going into the ACC Championship Game, I have a rematch of the Week 6 match-up between Georgia Tech and Clemson. I'll get to that at the end of this breakdown, though. Before I get to that, I want to break down the end-of-the-season awards. For this, I'll be looking at five awards:

  • Offensive Player of the Year
  • Defensive Player of the Year
  • Offensive Rookie of the Year
  • Defensive Rookie of the Year
  • Coach of the Year

Offensive Player of the Year

In my mind, there are a few different players in contention here. Those players' teams also happened to finish first and second in the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. Up for Offensive Player of the Year are Georgia Tech quarterback Justin Thomas, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, Florida State running back Dalvin Cook and Pittsburgh running back James Conner. Let's take a look at how they finished.

Place Name Team Position
1 Dalvin Cook Florida State RB
2 Justin Thomas Georgia Tech QB
3 Deshaun Watson Clemson QB
4 James Conner Pittsburgh RB

I'm not going to lie. This was a tough selection for me. I guess I'll start with fourth place. I think James Conner will see reduced carries this year in order to reduce the fatigue. Conner is a fantastic player, and could very well be the most talented player, but he also had 298 carries last season. With a new offensive coordinator, I think that Pitt will start to throw it a little bit more (assuming they can find someone to throw it to other than Tyler Boyd).

In third place is Deshaun Watson. Again, he is one of the most talented players in the ACC and all of football, but his fragility (by the way, spell checker said nothing, so that's a word) is what gives him third place. His health is such a wild card, I have issues placing him any higher on this list.

In second, we have website-favorite Justin Thomas. I made a tough choice here. Part of it was that I was trying to remain objective, but there's a very real chance that Thomas could win the award. But replacing virtually all of your supporting cast makes that very difficult.

That's why I went with Dalvin Cook as the ACC Offensive Player of the Year. There were questions about whether or not he would even play this year, but after his recent run-in with the law, he was found not guilty and has been cleared to play. After watching him carve up Tech's defense last year in the ACC Championship, there is no doubt in my mind that he can carry the Florida State offense on his back. The only issue there, though, is that may result in him being overworked, especially in the first part of the season when they're still trying to figure everything out.

Defensive Player of the Year

Again, we have a really tough decision. There are some really good defensive players in the ACC, and unfortunately, there are some players I have to leave off of this list. So let's take a look at my final standings.

Place Name Team Position
1 KeShun Freeman Georgia Tech DE
2 Luther Maddy Virginia Tech DT
3 Kendall Fuller Virginia Tech CB
4 Lafayette Pitts Pittsburgh CB

In fourth place is a name I'm not sure many people know. Lafayette Pitts is a senior cornerback for Pittsburgh. He had a decent season last year, finishing with 53.0 tackles, three tackles for loss, one sack, two forced fumbles and seven pass break-ups. That's right, no interceptions. So how on earth is this guy going to finish fourth in the ACC Defensive Player of the Year? His aggressiveness (seven PBUs) combined with the coaching of Pat Narduzzi. This is definitely one of the boldest predictions I have on here, but Pitts is definitely a guy to keep an eye on.

In third, I have another corner in Kendall Fuller. While he's not the physical presence his brother Kyle was, he's still a very good corner that is on a very good defense. He was absolutely disruptive last season with 15 pass break-ups and two interceptions. The PBUs could be close to the same, but I expect his interceptions to definitely increase in his junior season.

In second, I have another Virginia Tech player in defensive tackle Luther Maddy. Maddy virtually all of last season due to injury, but when he is healthy (which he is now), he is a disruptive beast on the defensive line. Two years ago, Maddy blew up the middle of the offensive line with 6.5 sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. Now a senior and fully healthy, I expect him to have a monster year before going to the NFL.

Winning this award for Defensive Player of the Year will be sophomore Georgia Tech defensive end KeShun Freeman. As a freshman last season, Freeman led the Yellow Jackets in sacks with 4.5 and was named a freshman All-American. Now as the premiere pass rusher for the Yellow Jackets, Freeman has the chance to improve dramatically. Adding some weight and getting to around 240 lbs. could make him a terror on the defensive line.

Offensive Rookie of the Year

Picking rookie of the year is always something that can be pretty difficult since all freshmen are unknown quantities. Because of that, I'm not going to pick four players for each of these; I'm just going to pick a winner. For offensive rookie of the year, I'm going with Georgia Tech wide receiver Brad Stewart. The last commitment for Georgia Tech, Stewart could very well be starting in Week 1 for a couple of reasons. After the graduation of DeAndre Smelter and Darren Waller, the Yellow Jackets have been having a lot of issues finding someone to step up. Right now, Stewart is the first man off the bench behind Micheal Summer and Ricky Jeune, but so far neither of them have done much to separate themselves.

Defensive Rookie of the Year

For defensive rookie of the year, I'm going with Clemson defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. The former five-star recruit gets the wonderful opportunity to take the place of former Clemson Tiger Grady Jarrett. Jarrett was a force on the Tigers defensive line as long as he was there. Taking his place should be Wilkins. As a five-star recruit standing at 6-foot-5 305 pounds, he certainly looks the part. He just needs to prove it on the field.

Coach of the Year

Place Name Team
1 Pat Narduzzi Pittsburgh
2 Paul Johnson Georgia Tech
3 Dabo Swinney Clemson
4 Jimbo Fisher Florida State

Based off of my predictions, there was really only one choice for this award, and that is Pat Narduzzi. As the first-year coach of the Panthers, I have him finishing with a 6-2 conference record, which is good for a tie for first place in the Coastal division. What needs to happen for him to actually do that is improvement on the defensive side of the ball. They have some decent players there, they just need some guidance.

ACC Championship Game

Georgia Tech vs. Clemson. In this scenario, Clemson won the regular season match-up and now Georgia Tech wants revenge. Now at a neutral site (out of the harsh conditions of Death Valley in Clemson), I think Tech stands a much better chance. It would be a fantastic game that would go right down to the wire. At the end of the day, though, even though Clemson is more talented on both offense and defense, Tech definitely has the advantage in coaching. And because of that, I'm picking Tech to win this match-up.

How'd I do with my predictions? Why am I wrong?