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Heisman Trophy caps record-setting week for conference
GREENSBORO, N.C. – Last week began with the Atlantic Coast Conference securing an NCAA-record 11 football bowl bids, landing conference champion Florida State in the Vizio BCS National Championship game and placing two teams in BCS postseason games for the second time in three years.
It ended with the conference re-writing the book on individual honors as well.
When Florida State redshirt freshman quarterback Jameis Winston took the stage on Saturday night to accept the 2013 Heisman Memorial Trophy, it capped a six-day flurry of unprecedented ACC postseason recognition.
“You have to be pleased with 11 teams in bowls – two in BCS bowls and 1 playing for the National Championship – and three teams with 10 or more wins,” said ACC Commissioner John Swofford. “Add having the Heisman Trophy winner, the national Defensive Player of the Year and the other numerous individual national awards that our players have received, and you have a banner year for ACC football, one of our most memorable seasons.”
How dominating has the ACC been in terms of postseason recognition? Consider:
• For the first time ever, nine of college football’s most coveted honors belong to one conference. The ACC became the first conference to have a player win the Heisman Trophy, the Davey O’Brien Award for the nation’s top quarterback (FSU’s Winston) the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s top running back (Boston College’s Andre Williams), the Rimington Award for the nation’s top center (Florida State’s Bryan Stork), the Lou Groza Award for the nation’s top placekicker (Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo), the Outland Trophy for the nation’s top interior lineman (Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald), the Nagurski Trophy for the nation’s top defensive player (Donald), the Lombardi Award for the nation’s top lineman or linebacker (Donald) and the Bednarik Award for the nation’s top defensive player (Donald) in the same year.
• Florida State’s Winston added the Walter Camp Foundation National Player of the Year Award, and Duke’s David Cutcliffe was named National Coach of the Year by the Walter Camp Foundation
• As of Dec. 18, ACC student-athletes have combined to win as many national individual awards as the other Power 5 conferences combined.
• As of Dec. 18, the ACC ranked second nationally with a total of 97 selections to postseason All-America teams (Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp, Sporting News, USA Today, ESPN, CBS and Sports Illustrated). The ACC’s 57 total first-team selections also ranks second nationally.
• Donald joined Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh (2009) as only the second student-athlete to capture the Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski and Bednarik awards in a single season.
• Pitt’s Donald became the third ACC student-athlete in four years to claim the Nagurski Trophy.
“I am just overwhelmed with all the wonderful honors from this week,” Donald said. “It really makes you speechless. I want to thank everyone who found me worthy of this recognition. This isn’t about me – it is about Pitt and my coaches and teammates. I’m appreciative of all of them.”
The ACC’s impressive list includes other notable firsts.
Boston College’s Williams, who leads the nation with 2,102 rushing yards, is the first ACC student-athlete to claim the Doak Walker Award. Florida State’s Stork, who has helped pave the way for a Florida State offense that averages over 529 yards per game and ranks second in the nation in scoring with 53 points per contest, was the first ACC player and the third from a current conference school to claim the Rimington Trophy.
At 19 years and 342 days, Florida State’s Winston became the youngest Heisman Trophy winner in the award’s 79-year history. Winston, who has amassed 4,013 total yards while throwing an ACC overall and NCAA FBS freshman record 38 touchdown passes, is the third Florida State quarterback to win the Heisman and the eighth from a current league school to win the award.
As he accepted the honor Saturday night in New York, Winston looked ahead to the BCS National Championship Game against Auburn and marveled at being in the company of past Heisman winners.
"It was a blessing to be up on the stage with former Heisman winners," said Winston, the first freshman quarterback to ever lead his team to 13 wins. "What they have given to college football - hopefully I can be a role model just like them one day. I need to just keep getting better. I can't allow this stop me from getting better or my team from getting better. I look forward to the future and I look forward to playing Auburn."
Cutcliffe was tabbed as the Walter Camp Foundation’s National Coach of the Year and Co-National Coach of the Year by the Sporting News after leading the Blue Devils to their first-ever 10-win season. Miami’s Al Golden was recognized with the Lombardi Award for Excellence in Coaching after guiding the Hurricanes to a 9-3 year.
While the honors poured in for ACC players and coaches, few – if any – came as a real surprise. Winston overwhelmingly placed first in the Heisman Trophy voting by 1,501 points, a margin that stands as the seventh-largest in the history of the award.
"When you watch someone work so hard for something and be so team-oriented, not individual, it reinforces that the good things happen to the good guys," said Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher.
And Pitt’s Donald was the overwhelming favorite for each of his four honors after leading the nation with 26.5 tackles for loss, recording 10 quarterback sacks and forcing 16 quarterback hurries.
“When they were introducing the awards (at ceremonies last Thursday night in Orlando), I just wanted to shout out, ‘And the winner is Aaron Donald,’” Florida State senior cornerback Lamarcus Joyner – who himself was a finalist for both the Nagurski and Thorpe Awards – told ESPN. “He is a great kid, and I just respect the heck out of him. He deserves everything he gets.”
Now, the ACC hopes to match its level of individual achievement with team success. The bowl season begins for ACC teams on Dec. 26, when Pitt faces Bowling Green in the Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, and culminates with the national title game between Florida State and Auburn in Pasadena on Jan. 6.