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Florida State’s national title caps banner ACC season of team, individual achievement
As he basked in the glow of Florida State’s BCS National Championship last Monday night, Seminole head coach Jimbo Fisher shared the spoils of victory.
“I’m happy for our conference,” Fisher said. “The ACC is good football, folks. It’s a great football conference.”
Florida State’s national title – the third for the Seminoles and the sixth for an ACC school – served as Exhibit A, but supporting evidence for Fisher’s claim abounded. Consider:
• An NCAA-record 11 of the ACC’s 14 teams played in bowl games. Each of those 11 teams finished with a winning record, a total which led the nation and was the most by any league since 1932.
• This marks the first time in the league’s 61-year history that three ACC teams ended the regular season with at least 10 wins (Florida State, Duke and Clemson).
• The ACC was the only league to post multiple wins over nonconference teams ranked in the AP Top 10 this year. Florida State’s thrilling 34-31 win over second-ranked Auburn in the national title game was the ACC’s third. The ACC had as many wins over top-10 nonconference opponents as the four other Power 5 conferences combined.
• ACC teams defeated two top-10 teams in bowl games for the first time ever (Clemson over No. 7 Ohio State in the Orange Bowl and Florida State over No. 2 Auburn in the BCS).
“You don't luck up and get to BCS games,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “You earn your way there. And you don't luck up and win them. You've got to earn it on the field."
By the time Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston heard his name called as the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner on Dec. 14, he had already collected enough postseason hardware to stock a store aisle.
A product of Bessemer, Ala., Winston set the ACC and FBS freshman record for touchdown passes (40) and the freshman mark for passing yards (4,057), while leading the nation in total quarterback rating (85.8) and pass efficiency rating (184.8). In addition to becoming the first freshman to capture the ACC Player of the Year award in the 61-year history of the conference, he was a consensus All-American, the Walter Camp National Player of the Year, the Davey O'Brien Quarterback of the Year and the Manning Award winner.
But as Fisher noted, the stats only begin to tell the story of what made Winston a special player in his first collegiate season. Look only as far as the BCS National Championship Game, where Winston struggled early but was at his best when it mattered most – including during Florida State’s dramatic game-winning drive in the final 1:19.
“That is what a great player is to me,” Fisher said. “Anybody can do it when it is their ‘A game’ night. Very few can do it when it’s not their night. To pull it out in that environment and with what was on the line … if that’s not a great player, then I don’t know what one is.”
Pitt senior defensive tackle Aaron Donald joined Winston in receiving virtually every award for which he was nominated. Donald finished his season with 59 total tackles (43 solo), 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 quarterback sacks.
"It is tremendous as a coach when your best player is also your best worker," Pitt head coach Paul Chryst said. "Aaron truly enjoys the film study and preparation part of the game. He plays every day in practice like it's a game day. Aaron has earned all of the accolades he has received and we are all incredibly proud of him."
Duke’s David Cutcliffe was named National Coach of the Year by the Bobby Dodd Foundation, the Walter Camp Foundation, the Sporting News and the Maxwell Football Club after leading the Blue Devils to the ACC Coastal Division title and their first-ever 10-win season.
“Coach Cutcliffe is more of a mentor than a coach to me and the rest of my teammates,” redshirt junior quarterback and team captain Anthony Boone said. “It’s been great, just learning how to be a better quarterback and a better man. What makes him special is that he actually cares; that he’s a genuine guy. Everything he says, you can take to heart.”
Those prominently recognized also included Boston College running back Andre Williams, who led the nation in rushing with 2,177 yards, captured the Doak Walker Award and joined Winston to give the ACC two of the five Heisman finalists for the first time ever.
When the final numbers were tallied, the ACC became the first conference to sweep the Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O'Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik, Nagurski, Groza and Rimington awards. And it didn’t stop there when it came to national honors.
The talent and depth was also evident when it came to All-America team selections. The ACC had six consensus football All-Americans in 2013, matching its all-time high set originally in 1997 and matched in 1999.
The ACC ranked second nationally with a total of 121 selections to postseason All-America teams (Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp, Sporting News, USA Today, ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated, and Phil Steele). The ACC’s 64 total first-team selections were also the second-most of any conference.
“This year has been a tremendous building block for ACC football,” Commissioner John Swofford told the ACC Digital Network shortly after Monday night’s BCS National Championship Game ended. “We look forward to the future and more of the same.”