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Photo: Virginia Cavaliers head coach Mike London (right). Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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The jockeying for ACC Coach of the Year is in full swing as the halfway point of the season approaches. While Mike London and Paul Johnson remain in the top two spots, respectively, there were plenty of machinations taking place in their rear view mirrors. Gone for now from the fluid rankings are David Cutcliffe, Steve Addazio and Paul Chryst, supplanted by Bobby Petrino, Al Golden and Dabo Swinney, who each posted pivotal conference wins in Week 5.
7. Dabo Swinney , Clemson
It’s taken four weeks and a switch at quarterback, but Swinney now has the Tigers positioned to get on a serious roll over the next two months. While Clemson has a couple of losses, both came on the road against ranked teams, Georgia and Florida State. And now that precocious rookie Deshaun Watson is piloting Chad Morris’ offensive attack, the entire program is liable to capture a tailwind that results in another 10-win season.
Signature Moment: Last week’s rout of North Carolina
6. Al Golden , Miami
Welcome to the discussion, coach. Golden was on the outside looking in after his ‘Canes fell to Nebraska two weeks ago. But Miami responded with its best defensive effort in a very long time, exacting revenge on Duke for last year’s 48-30 loss. The ‘Canes have lost in two tough venues, Lincoln and Louisville; however, beating the Blue Devils was a huge development in the Coastal Division race. And Golden is getting it done with a true freshman, Brad Kaaya, under center.
Signature Moment: Avenging last year’s loss to Duke
5. Bobby Petrino , Louisville
The offense was supposed to be the calling card in Louisville this season. Instead, the D has provided the spark for a 4-1 start, and Petrino and his staff have adapted to the new landscape. The Cards have been hit hard by injuries, from star WR DeVante Parker and RB Michael Dyer in the preseason to starting QB Will Gardner in mid-September. Yet, they’ve endured by losing only at Virginia by two points.
Signature Moment: Defeating Miami in the opener
4. Dave Doeren , NC State
Even in losing to Florida State last week, Doeren made a statement—his second Pack team in Raleigh is going to be a factor in the ACC this fall. NC State is a markedly different team than the one that went 3-9 a year ago. It’s scored at least 41 points in four straight games, with newcomer QB Jacoby Brissett flourishing in Doeren’s system. The Pack pushed the ‘Noles to the brink on Saturday, a clear indication the team is turning the corner for its up-and-coming coach.
Signature Moment: Putting a serious scare into Florida State for 60 minutes
3. Jimbo Fisher , Florida State
You can have your style points. Fisher is content to keep compiling victories. Sure, the Seminoles have been tested more in 2014 than at any point in 2013, but they remain unbeaten. In fact, Fisher has now won a remarkable 20 games in a row, finding the right formula for success against Oklahoma State, Clemson and NC State in the opening month. And the win over the rival Tigers came without star QB Jameis Winston being available.
Signature Moment: Beating Clemson without Jameis Winston
2. Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
There are two unbeaten teams left in the ACC. One is top-ranked Florida State, and the other is the Yellow Jackets. Johnson’s kids have weathered some early challenges, rallying late in the fourth quarter to defeat Georgia Southern and Virginia Tech in back-to-back weeks. The coach has so far done an outstanding job of mentoring first-time starting QB Justin Thomas, who’s accounted for nine touchdowns and 1,053 total yards in four games.
Signature Moment: Rallying to beat Virginia Tech in Blacksburg on Sept. 20
1. Mike London , Virginia
The Cavaliers have already won more games than they did in all of 2013—and seven games remain on the schedule. Facing a crucial season, London and his staff have so far delivered. Virginia knocked Louisville out of the Top 25 on Sept. 13, and lost by just eight points to ranked opponents from UCLA and BYU. Jon Tenuta’s D has been stout and opportunistic all year. But now that the offense has cranked out more than 500 yards in consecutive games, the Cavs are going to be doubly dangerous in the second half of 2014.
Signature Moment: Upsetting Louisville in Week 3