Coach of the Year: The Frontrunners

 

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It’s been two weeks since the candidates for 2014 Coach of the Year have been vetted. And two weeks of pivotal league games have resulted in shake-ups … as well as an aura of stability at the top of the rankings. Sure, Mike London and Bobby Petrino have drifted from contention for now, replaced in the top six by Al Golden and Steve Addazio. But the top slots are still occupied by David Cutcliffe and Jimbo Fisher in a possible preview of the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte on Dec. 6.  

6. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Two years, two bowl appearances for Addazio on the Heights. There have been some ups-and-downs this season, but the high-motor coach has been able to guide his Eagles to the six wins needed to become postseason eligible. And he’s done it with a first-time starting quarterback, Florida transfer Tyler Murphy, at the controls of the offense. Addazio and his kids have offset home losses to Pitt and Colorado State with upsets of USC and Virginia Tech, the latter coming in Blacksburg last week.  
Signature Moment: Shocking USC on Sept. 13

5. Al Golden, Miami
All of sudden, the ‘Canes appear to be very dangerous. And just in time, too, because unbeaten Florida State visits Sun Life Stadium a week from Saturday in a renewal of their rivalry. Golden owns one of the best league wins of the year, over Coastal Division leader Duke, and his team has won three straight games by at least three touchdowns. Not only are Duke Johnson and the rest of the offense clicking in Miami, but the defense is beginning to peak as well.  
Signature Moment: Being the only team to defeat Duke so far in 2014

4. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
More steady than spectacular, which could explain why Swinney remains locked in the four hole. The coach has done well to navigate his quarterback situation, which included an unexpected detour after Deshaun Watson injured his hand on Oct. 11. Even as the offense has sought its sea legs, the Tigers have continued to survive around the play of Brent Venables’ defense. Clemson stands at No. 21 in the rankings, with its only losses coming against No. 2 Florida State and No. 20 Georgia … on the road.
Signature Moment: The current five-game winning streak

3. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
After ebbing in the middle of October, Johnson is flowing upstream again following back-to-back blowouts of Pitt and Virginia. At a time when the preseason bar was set around break-even, the Yellow Jackets have already won seven games to lock down a 20th straight year of at least a .500 record. Remember, QB Justin Thomas wasn’t even supposed to be the starter this fall, but he’s fourth in ACC rushing, and he’s already thrown 14 touchdown passes to add much-needed balance to Johnson’s attack.   
Signature Moment: Beating Virginia Tech and Miami in consecutive games

2. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Coaches are paid to win. No one has done a better job of earning his paycheck than Fisher, whose Seminoles have sidestepped every pitfall to remain one of just two undefeated Power Five programs. It hasn’t always been easy this fall, with last Thursday’s rally from a 21-0 deficit at Louisville serving as the season in a nutshell. Still, Fisher continues to keep his guys focused on gameday, while deftly adjusting to the changing circumstances and challenges that arise after kickoff.
Signature Moment: Becoming the only team to beat Notre Dame in 2014

1. David Cutcliffe, Duke
After a quiet start to the campaign, Cutcliffe is rallying for what could be his third Coach of the Year honor in a row. The Blue Devils’ season was in danger of unraveling following an uninspiring loss at Miami on Sept. 27. Instead, they used the 22-10 loss as a source of motivation. Duke has won its last three games, each decided by no more than a touchdown, to take over the pole position in the always deep and competitive Coastal Division.  
Signature Moment: Bouncing back from the Miami loss to win three straight nail-biters