Coach of the Year: The Frontrunners Down the Stretch

 

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The season is winding down, and the field of contenders for 2014 Coach of the Year is shrinking by the week. Games take on new meaning in November, from century-old rivalry games to matchups that determine who’s in and who’s out of divisional and national title chases. And so when Georgia Tech silenced Clemson last Saturday, 28-6, it seemed fitting that Paul Johnson rose to the top of the leaderboard … and Dabo Swinney bid adieu to contention for this season.


5. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Petrino has reached a hard ceiling in this space, because his Cardinals have not defeated a ranked opponent in 2014. But consider what the coach has accomplished in his return to the Louisville program. In their first season as an ACC member—and first without Teddy Bridgewater behind center—the Cardinals can still finish the year with 10 wins. Plus, the offense has spent part of the fall without its best back, Michael Dyer, top receiver, DeVante Parker, and starting quarterback, Will Gardner, who suffered a season-ending knee injury two weeks ago.   
Signature Moment: Doubling-up BC in Boston on Nov. 8

4. Al Golden, Miami
So close. So painfully close to exploding to the top of the Coach of the Year rankings. Miami held a 16-point lead on Florida State Saturday night, but like so many previous Nole opponents, the Canes couldn’t shut the door. Still, a 30-26 loss to the unbeaten defending national champs doesn’t erase the fact that Golden has Miami turning the corner. This is a very different team than the one that lost to Louisville and Nebraska in September. And the Canes have evolved into one of the country’s top 25 teams with a rookie, Brad Kaaya, taking snaps and no defensive household names outside of LB Denzel Perryman.
Signature Moment: Routing Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and North Carolina in successive weeks

3. David Cutcliffe, Duke
For the first time in weeks, Cutcliffe is out of the top two, the result of last Saturday’s sloppy loss at home to Virginia Tech. But, on some level, is Cut the victim of his own success in Durham? He’s raised the bar to unprecedented levels at a program unaccustomed to sustained excellence in football. And despite the stumble to the Hokies, the Blue Devils still control their own destiny in the Coastal Division. Close out the regular season with wins over Carolina and Wake Forest, and we’ll have a sequel of Duke vs. Florida State in Charlotte for the ACC crown.    
Signature Moment: Being just one of two teams to defeat Georgia Tech this year

2. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
And the beat goes on in Tallahassee. While outsiders quibble incessantly about minutiae, the Seminoles keep finding ways to remain unbeaten and on track for both a league title and a playoff berth. It takes a special coach—and staff—to keep a group of young men focused and poised through adversity. No one has been better at it than Fisher, the nucleus of a squad that’s rallied back five times from second-half deficits. The latest comeback at Miami was quintessential Florida State, and another example of the players being an extension of their unflappable coach.  [Emotional Speech After FSU's Win Over Miami]
Signature Moment: Beating Miami at Sun Life Stadium after falling behind, 16-0

1. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
Since briefly detouring in mid-October, the Yellow Jackets have been the hottest team in the conference. Everything has come together for Georgia Tech, which has decimated Pitt, Virginia, NC State and Clemson in succession. The offense is rolling behind QB Justin Thomas and B-back Synjyn Days, and the D is producing money plays, week after week. At 9-2, the Ramblin’ Wreck is having its best season since 2009, and there’s a lot more that can still be accomplished. Tech faces rival Georgia in Athens next week, and will win the Coastal Division if Duke loses one of its final two games. (Also Semifinalist for Maxwell Award COY)
Signature Moment: Hammering Clemson on Saturday for a fourth straight by at least 22 points