This will be remembered as one of the worst seasons in conference history.
North Carolina was ineligible for the postseason. Miami won the division for the first time since joining it, but self-imposed a postseason ban for the second straight season. Georgia Tech fired defensive coordinator Al Groh midseason, dropped to 6-7 and needed a waiver from the NCAA just to play in a bowl game. Virginia Tech dropped out of the Top 25 only three weeks into the season and needed to beat rival Virginia in the final week of the season to become bowl eligible. Virginia regressed, winning just four games, and coach Mike London fired four of his assistants, including defensive coordinator Jim Reid.
And that was just the Coastal Division.
Two Atlantic Division coaches, BC’s Frank Spaziani and NC State’s Tom O’Brien, were both fired. Wake Forest suspended eight players, including four starters, over a two-week span during the season. Maryland announced it was out, leaving for the Big Ten, and the ACC announced Louisville was in. Clemson lost to South Carolina. Florida State lost to Florida. And the ACC decided it would sue Maryland in an attempt to force the university to pay the league’s $50 million exit fee.
The ACC went 0-4 against its SEC rivals in the final week of the regular season and for the second straight year had three strikes against Notre Dame. The conference had six bowl-eligible teams, two short of filling the league’s bowl tie-ins.
Hooray for Duke!
The Blue Devils, led by ACC Coach of the Year David Cutcliffe, were the first to become bowl eligible in the Coastal Division. Duke finished 6-6, earned its first bowl bid since 1994, and in November still had a legitimate chance to play for the ACC title.
It wasn’t all bad.
Florida State and Clemson put on a September show in Tallahassee for ESPN’s "College GameDay" crew, quarterback EJ Manuel had a Heisman moment in that game, and ACC offenses flourished under veteran quarterbacks this year. New stars, like Maryland’s Stefon Diggs and Miami’s Duke Johnson, emerged, while old stars, like Tajh Boyd and Giovani Bernard, shone brighter.
Florida State won its first ACC title since 2005, but lost defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to Kentucky the day after the game. The Seminoles had a good season, but left many wondering if it could have been a great season had they not lost on the road in the fourth quarter to NC State.
The good news?
It can only get better.
Offensive MVP: Tajh Boyd, Clemson. Boyd led the ACC in total offense with 376.4 yards per game, throwing for 3,550 yards and 34 touchdowns on the season. Though he won ACC Player of the Year and ACC Offensive Player of the Year honors by a whisker, we both agreed on Boyd as the best player in the league this season.
Defensive MVP: Bjoern Werner, Florida State. Werner quite easily won ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors for good reason. He was the best, most consistent player in the league this season, leading the league with 13 sacks and finishing second with 18 tackles for loss. He and teammate Cornellius "Tank" Carradine formed the best duo in the league.
Newcomer of the year: Duke Johnson, Miami. Stefon Diggs was great, too, but Johnson gets the nod here for having a better season. Johnson ended up with 2,070 all-purpose yards, second in school history to Willis McGahee (2,108 in 2002). He was a game-changer not just at running back but in the return game, as he scored 13 total touchdowns this season.
Biggest surprise: Hello, Duke! The Blue Devils are headed to a bowl game for the first time since 1994, and were in contention for the Coastal Division crown until the second-to-last week of the regular season. Easy to see why David Cutcliffe was named the league's coach of the year.
Biggest disappointment: Virginia Tech. Does anybody remember when the Hokies started the season ranked No. 16 in the AP poll? Us neither. Virginia Tech is about to finish up its worst season in 20 years. This is one season removed from being an at-large selection into the BCS. There were breakdowns all over this team, from Logan Thomas to the running game to what was supposed to be a great defense. Now the Hokies need a win in their bowl game to avoid finishing with a losing record for the first time since 1992.
Best game: No. 4 Florida State 49, No. 10 Clemson 37. The first meeting between two Top 10 ACC teams since 2007 did not disappoint. The Tigers jumped out quickly to a 28-14 third-quarter lead but could not withstand the Noles blitz that ensued. Florida State scored 28 straight points to take the win, as EJ Manuel had the best game of his career -- throwing for 380 yards and two touchdowns.