At this point in the year, every ACC football team has played at least six games. Clemson is meeting preseason expectations as the league’s only remaining unbeaten squad, but that doesn’t mean there haven’t been any surprises along the way.
Midway through the season, a few of the usual suspects are in the hunt for postseason awards, while others have exceeded expectations and joined the conversation.
Which players deserve ACC midseason awards? Mark Carroll and Brian Geisinger discuss.
Midseason ACC Player of the Year
MC: Is there any debate here? We set the bar high for Lamar Jackson in the preseason by predicting an 11-1 finish for Louisville, but I don’t think anyone expected the sophomore quarterback to have 30 touchdowns through six games. Not only is he the front-runner for league player of the year, but if he comes anywhere close to maintaining his current pace and the Cardinals keep winning, he’s a lock for the Heisman Trophy. Louisville’s 63-20 beatdown of Florida State gives him a signature win. His hurdling of Syracuse defensive back Cordell Hudson will show up on highlight reels for the rest of the season. Sure, Deshaun Watson’s Clemson Tigers got the head-to-head win over the Cardinals, but that shouldn’t outweigh what Jackson has done individually, especially considering Louisville has been perfect outside of that loss. Jackson is the easy choice here.
BG: There’s no question; it’s Lamar Jackson of Louisville. Jackson has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for 15 more, which leads the nation. No one else has more than 11. Scoring a touchdown is the single most important thing to do in football, and thus far no one else has been better at that than the sophomore. Jackson’s 832 rushing yards are fifth in the nation, but all four of the players ahead of him have at least 44 more carries. While his completion percentage leaves something to be desired (58.2 percent), he leads the ACC in yards per attempt (9.2). According to Football Study Hall’s S&P-plus metric, Louisville has the best rushing offense in the nation, and that’s largely because of Jackson. Let’s just leave it at this: Barring a collapse, he should win the Heisman.
Midseason ACC Defensive Player of the Year
MC: Pitt defensive end Ejuan Price is making the most of his sixth year with the Panthers. Neither his past injuries (missed all but 19 games in his first four years) nor his size (6-0, 255 lbs) have stopped him from becoming one of the top defensive linemen in the country. Price has accumulated nine sacks through seven games this fall; Shaq Lawson of Clemson led the league last year with 12.5, and that was over the course of 15 games. In addition, Price has 13 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles to his name. Tying the ACC record for sacks in a season (19 by FSU’s Peter Boulware in 1996) might be a reach, but Price is well on his way to collecting several postseason honors.
BG: Ejuan Price of Pitt makes a very strong case for this award, and if Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence saw more snaps earlier in the season, I’d strongly look in the freshman’s direction, but I’m backing Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker. The senior rush end could’ve departed for the NFL Draft a season ago, but he returned and has done nothing but wreak havoc ever since. His 8.5 sacks rank second in the league and have caused an ACC-leading loss of 72 yards for opponents, per cfbstats.com. FSU’s defense has been lit up this year, but it’s not because of Walker, who has also forced three fumbles. According to Football Study Hall, Florida State’s defensive line, anchored by Walker, has a havoc rate of 7.2 percent (23rd in the nation), which is better than Pitt’s (5.8 percent).
(Note: Havoc rate is an estimate of what percentage of plays a position group records a tackle for loss, a sack or defended a pass.)
Midseason ACC Coach of the Year
MC: It’s impossible to ignore what Dave Clawson has done at Wake Forest. Think about this: With Army, Virginia and Boston College left on the schedule, the Demon Deacons could conceivably win eight regular-season games. Throw in a bowl win and you have nine, tying for the second-most in school history. That being said, my vote goes to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. The Tigers have been tested by Louisville and Auburn, and despite some concerns with turnovers lost, I still fully expect them to finish the regular season 12-0. Should Clemson lose, I’ll re-evaluate, but until then, I’m giving Swinney the nod here.
BG: Despite the upset loss at Syracuse on Saturday, I love what Justin Fuente has done in Blacksburg, but for my money, it’s Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson. The schedule hasn’t exactly been murderers’ row, but Clawson has the Deacs within one win of their first bowl game in five years — yes, it’s been that long. He’s been patient and done wonders with the offensive line, which has come a long way in two years. Clawson has also managed an up-and-down quarterback situation and gotten the most out of John Wolford and Kendall Hinton when they’ve been healthy. If Wake finishes strong, it could win more than six games for the first time since 2008.
Midseason ACC Rookie of the Year
MC: Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois is the type of talent who blows your mind with a brilliant play one minute and then drives you crazy with a costly mistake the next. But the redshirt freshman has been a lot more good than bad for the Seminoles this year, especially considering that the team’s offensive line hasn’t been as strong as advertised. Francois is efficient, completing 62.4 percent of his passes at 8.5 yards per attempt, and his 10-3 touchdown-to-interception ratio is excellent for a rookie signal-caller. I’m also a fan of Georgia Tech true freshman running back Dedrick Mills, who has nine rushing touchdowns this fall, but Francois has made the greatest impact of ACC rookies.
BG: There really aren’t too many great options here. Ahmmon Richards of Miami (13.3 yards per target, 55.6 percent Success Rate) and Dedrick Mills have had nice rookie campaigns, and Dexter Lawrence is very close to becoming one of the most dominant defensive players in America. But let’s keep it simple: It’s FSU’s Deondre Francois, who has been frustrating (too many fumbles) at times during his debut season in Tallahassee, but really impressive, too. Florida State ranks No. 10 nationally in both passing S&P-plus and passing success rate. Francois’ offensive line has given up more sacks than any other ACC team (21), but the rookie quarterback has tossed just three interceptions on 221 attempts (only Mitch Trubisky has thrown fewer on more attempts). When given the proper time to pass, Francois has been explosive, too — 8.5 yards per pass attempt, which is the fourth highest in the ACC.