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(Photo courtesy of PittsburghPanthers.com)
The ACC dominated college football when it came to national yearly and weekly awards in 2013. If Week Two of the 2014 season proves to be a trend-setter, the conference could be primed for a repeat performance.
Virginia Tech rover Kyshoen Jarrett was recognized as the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, while Hokie linebacker Deon Clarke was selected as the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, and defensive end Dadi Nicolas was named the National Defensive Player of the Week by 24/7 Sports. The trio played huge roles in Virginia Tech’s 35-21 road win at No. 8 Ohio State.
North Carolina’s Brian Walker was named the Jim Thorpe Defensive Back of the Week and the Athlon Sports National Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in UNC’s 31-27 victory over visiting San Diego State. And on the offensive side, Pitt running back James Conner picked up the Maxwell Football Club’s National Player of the Week honor.
The three players recognized from Virginia Tech served as another tribute to defensive coordinator Bud Foster, who has dialed up scores of winning game plans during his three-plus decades as a member of head coach Frank Beamer’s staffs at Tech and Murray State.
“He really has a great understanding, a great mind for football,” Beamer said. “He's very good at the game, and he has enough experience where he can get an adjustment going very quickly.
“There's no one better. I think if you asked across the country, (to list the) number one or top defensive coordinators, Bud would be in every single one of them. To me he's the best defensive coordinator in the country. He's a valuable part of our program for sure.”
North Carolina’s Walker became just the third player in school history to return an interception 100 yards for a touchdown and picked off another pass in the fourth quarter of the win over the Aztecs.
"He made plays for us,” Tar Heel coach Larry Fedora said. “Two picks, took one for a hundred yards. That's an amazing night. It was really an amazing night of him. He did a great job. I'm proud of him."
Pitt’s Conner, meanwhile, ranks second nationally in total rushing yards after piling up 214 and scoring a touchdown in last week’s 30-20 win at Boston College in the Panthers’ ACC opener. Conner opened the season by rushing for 153 yards and four TDs on 14 carries in a 62-0 win over Delaware on Aug. 30.
“I like when I keep getting my name called,” said Conner, who carried the ball 36 times in the win at BC. “It makes me feel like I’m good and Coach is building trust in me if he keeps calling my number. Those are good games.”
Dating back to Pitt’s 2013 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green, Conner has averaged 198.7 rushing yards over his past three contests, totaling 596 yards and six touchdowns on 76 carries for (7.8 avg.).
It is the best three-game rushing performance by a Pitt player since the legendary Tony Dorsett closed his 1976 Heisman Trophy campaign with 625 yards and six TDs on 108 carries (5.8 avg.) against West Virginia, Penn State and Georgia (1977 Sugar Bowl).