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Earn a Ph.D. in college football … class is in session at Campus Insiders
Save for Saturday night’s ACC Championship Game in Charlotte, every program is in the clubhouse awaiting their postseason marching orders. And every coach is about to be graded on how he handled the unique challenges associated with the 2014 season. The following head coaches exceeded expectations this fall, but only one can be crowned the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year.
7. Dave Doeren, NC State
The Pack is returning to the postseason just a year after going 3-9 in Doeren’s first season in Raleigh. The program actually began the season saddled with an eight-game losing streak, but quickly showed that a new campaign was going to bring new results. And after hitting a rough patch in October, State rallied around its young coach to finish with three wins in the final four games. Even better, the squad was peaking down the stretch with blowout wins over in-state rivals Wake Forest and Carolina in Chapel Hill. Signature Moment: Hammering Carolina to close out a 3-1 November
6. Steve Addazio, Boston College
Two years. Two bowl games for the Eagles under Addazio, who’s brought unapologetic toughness and discipline back to the Heights. Despite losing a veteran backfield that included longtime starting QB Chase Rettig and 2,000-yard rusher Andre Williams, Boston College was still able to finish above .500, including a Week 3 upset of No. 9 USC that reverberated across the country. Addazio has quickly become the brand of BC football, a rugged, no-nonsense leader whose players operate in his steely image every weekend of the fall.
Signature Moment: Shocking USC on Sept. 13
5. Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Petrino didn’t inherent an easy situation in his Louisville return. His Cardinals were beginning life in a new league and with a new quarterback after Teddy Bridgewater left for the NFL. Even worse, Bridgewater’s heir, Will Gardner, was only healthy for a portion of the season. And yet despite leaning on rookie Reggie Bonnafon for nearly half the campaign, the Cards are still 9-3, behind only Florida State and Clemson in the Atlantic. Petrino and his staff held this team together, losing by an average of just six points, and closing with road wins over Boston College and Notre Dame and Saturday’s comeback over in-state rival Kentucky.
Signature Moment: Winning in South Bend on Nov. 22 with a rookie behind center
4. David Cutcliffe, Duke
Okay, so back-to-back losses to Virginia Tech and North Carolina in November will prevent Cutcliffe from earning ACC Coach of the Year for a third straight December. But what does it say about the work being by Cut that a nine-win campaign in Durham feels strangely disappointing? The program that went almost two decades between bowl appearances now expects to win the Coastal Division. That is the very definition of a culture change, which would not have been possible if Cutcliffe wasn’t hired by the Blue Devils seven years ago.
Signature Moment: Beating Coastal Division champ Georgia Tech in Atlanta on Oct. 11
3. Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Even after losing QB Tajh Boyd and WR Sammy Watkins to graduation, the Tigers are still in contention to win 10 games in 2014. In an unequivocal rebuilding year on offense, Swinney has done a bang-up job of ensuring Clemson’s relevancy on a national level. After early losses to Georgia and Florida State—away from home—the Tigers won all but one game, at Coastal Division winner Georgia Tech. They leaned on Brent Venables’ defense when blue-chip true freshman QB Deshaun Watson was injured. And then they zoomed past Steve Spurrier and South Carolina for the first time in six years upon Watson’s return to the huddle last Saturday.
Signature Moment: Winning the Palmetto Bowl over South Carolina last weekend
2. Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Harvard and Florida State. The last two remaining unbeaten programs at either the FBS or FCS level. No coach in recent history has done a better job than Fisher of keeping his kids focused on the task at hand. Despite the countless challenges, distractions and close calls, the Seminoles remained poised and clutch throughout, an unmistakable reflection of their head coach. Florida State could have easily been 7-5 and bracing for a second-tier bowl game at this point. The fact that the program has won 28 in a row, and is a win away from an ACC title and a playoff berth, is testament to the man in charge.
Signature Moment: Rallying from a 16-point deficit in Miami to outscore the rival Canes
1. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
There are seven Coastal Division members. The Yellow Jackets were selected to finish fifth by the media before the season began. The fact that they captured the division, setting up a winner-take-all matchup with Florida State Saturday night, makes Johnson the runaway choice for 2014 ACC Coach of the Year. Johnson answered his critics this fall, especially down the stretch. The Yellow Jackets rebounded from consecutive October losses to reel off five straight wins. The first four were routs of Pitt, Virginia, NC State and Clemson. The fifth was an exclamation point on this improbable season, going Between the Hedges on Saturday to beat rival Georgia for the first time in six years.
Signature Moment: Toppling Clemson and Georgia to close out the regular season