Boston College may have had a Heisman Trophy finalist, but Florida State had the Heisman Trophy winner. Photo: USA Today Sports
Crystal Ball Run is taking a look back at the 2013 season on a conference by conference basis, so what better place to start than the conference that comes first in alphabetical order and ended the year with the national champion and two BCS bowl victories? The ACC has earned the right to go first this season, right?
ACC at a Glance
The ACC has often played in the shadows of the SEC over the better part of the last decade. While the SEC has won BCS title after BCS title, the ACC has been a conference littered with mediocrity and a random team with great hopes ultimately dashed when it is least expected. That was not the case in 2013, with Florida State proving what a long-term game plan was capable of doing and ending the SEC's BCS title reign. The Seminoles gave the ACC the final BCS champion o the era and they did it with a freshman Heisman Trophy winner, but the ACC's impressive year did not end with Florida State. Clemson scored some big wins at the start and end of the season as well to help boost the overall profile of the ACC this past season.
The ACC also added two new members in 2013, with Pittsburgh and Syracuse joining from the crumbling Big East. These schools figure to have a more long term impact on the basketball side of things but each did well in their first year in the ACC by ending the year with winning records, a result few may have predicted. Boston College had a 2,000-yard rusher named a Heisman finalist in Andre Williams and North Carolina managed to overcome a dreadful start to the season to end the year with plenty of momentum and a winning record.
Biggest Surprise: Duke
Duke had a storybook 2012 season but in 2013 we learned that the Blue Devils may not exactly have been a one-year wonder. The Blue Devils ended the regular season with a 6-2 record in ACC play to advance to the ACC Championship Game. While they ran in to a wall against Florida State, Duke's season rewarded them with a trip to the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where they nearly managed to hold off Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. It was a wild year for Duke, and now they look to string together a third straight winning season in 2014. The last time that happened was from 1960-1963.
Duke's victory over Miami helped the Blue Devils take control of the Coastal . Photo: USA Today Sports
Biggest Disappointment: Miami
Miami had many fooled early on in the season, but saw there is still a lot of work to be done before The U is officially back. The narrative early in the season was written following a victory over what turned out to be a dreadful Florida team as the Gators did all they could to lose the football game at Miami, and the Hurricanes hit a three-game losing streak to FSU, Virginia Tech and Duke to throw away a shot at playing for their first ACC championship. To cap it all off, Miami was drubbed by incoming ACC member Louisville in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
Best Game: Florida State rallies to beat Auburn for BCS title
You could probably take your pick between BCS bowl games when talking about the best game played by an ACC team this past season, but when a crystal ball is involved it gets a heavy lean. This was the case this season as Florida State had to dig deep and respond to the much hyped adversity question against SEC champion Auburn in the BCS Championship Game. Florida State dug an early hole and looked out of sorts before mounting their comeback and witnessing Jameis Winston lead the team down field for two touchdowns in his final two possessions including one in the final minute to capture the championship. Not to take anything away from Clemson's thrilling victory over Ohio State, but Florida State saved the best game for last.
The ACC may have won a BCS title and gone 2-0 in BCS bowl games, but the overall record still came out on the losing end, at 5-6. The ACC did go 2-0 against the Big Ten but they also went 0-2 against the Pac 12 and 1-2 against the SEC (although that one win was pretty important). New conference members Pittsburgh and Syracuse earned their bowl share by picking up bowl victories in their first season as ACC members, and outgoing Maryland took a loss in a virtual home game against Marshall. Miami got pounded by Louisville, but some will take that with the Cardinals joining the conference next fall. No, the ACC does not get credit for Notre Dame's bowl victory either.
ACC Offensive Player of the Year: QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
This one is a pretty easy pick to make. The redshirt freshman quarterback established himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate in the first game of the season in Pittsburgh and never seemed to falter the rest of the way through an undefeated season. He was calm, cool and collected in every moment that freshmen tend to make mistakes. Where others would crumble, Winston thrived.
Honorable Mention: RB Andre Williams, Boston College
ACC Defensive Player of the Year: DT Aaron Donald, Pittsburgh
There may not have been a more dominant player on defense this season than Pittsburgh's big man Aaron Donald. Donald racked up tackles behind the line of scrimmage with regular authority and was nearly impossible to get by all season long. He won every defensive award possible on the banquet circuit and somehow was not named one of the six Heisman Trophy finalists. That's ridiculous.
Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald was as dominant a force as there was this season. Photo: USA Today Sports
Honorable Mention: DE Vic Beasley, Clemson
ACC Freshman of the Year: QB Jameis Winston, Florida State
No surprise here. As mentioned above, Winston never showed signs of freshmen mistakes. When he did seem vulnerable later in the season, he responded by shaking off the rust and leading his team down field like an upperclassman.
Honorable Mention: CB Kendall Fuller, Virginia Tech
ACC Coach of the Year: David Cutcliffe, Duke
To take nothing away from the brilliant job done by Jimbo Fisher at Florida State, it is truly remarkable the way David Cutcliffe has been able to win at Duke. With a roster full of players most programs would overlook, Cutcliffe managed to lead Duke to an ACC Coastal Division championship and sent Duke to a bowl game for the second year in a row. The Cutcliffe story in Durham is a good one, and here's hoping he can end a season with a victory in 2014.
Honorable Mention: Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
The ACC is no longer the conference sitting behind the rets of the big boys and just ahead of the
Big East American. The ACC is on the rise and 2014 should be full of intrigue as Bobby Petrino and Louisville join the conference. Florida State still looks like the class of the ACC and for good reason. Clemson is going to have some new faces but should not be going anywhere either and Miami is still trending slightly upward. The ACC may be a bit top heavy for right now, but it seems as though the conference's overall profile is getting better. If the ACC could get a real solid year out of Virginia Tech and Miami to compliment the work being done by Clemson and Florida State, that would help in 2014. The ACC may have the bragging rights right now, but overall there is still some work to be done to be seen as the top football conference in the country.