- Heather Dinich, College Football Reporter
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The ACC spoiled us with great stories in 2013, from Boston College running back Andre Williams’ run at the Heisman, to Duke’s magical season and ending with Florida State’s national title. There were plenty of great games and individual performances, but a few stood out above the rest. Here’s a quick look back at the best of the 2013 season in the ACC:
Best coach: David Cutcliffe, Duke. Cutcliffe, the AFCA’s National Coach of the Year, led the Blue Devils to a 10-4 record, including the ACC Coastal Division title and an appearance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, where Duke and Texas A&M played in the most-watched non-BCS game of the bowl season. He guided Duke to final national rankings in the BCS standings (24th), USA Today/Coaches poll (22nd) and Associated Press poll (23rd). Duke’s 10 wins are the most in school history.
Best player, offense: Jameis Winston, Florida State. In his first season as a starter, Winston won the Heisman Trophy and led Florida State to its first national title since 1999. He finished his season with 4,077 passing yards and 40 touchdowns, becoming the first freshman in FBS history to reach both marks. It is the second-highest single-season passing yardage total in school history, trailing only Chris Weinke (4,167 yards, 2000).
Best player, defense: Aaron Donald, Pitt. He became the Panthers’ first unanimous All-American since wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in 2003, and the program’s first defensive player to earn unanimous status since legendary defensive end Hugh Green in 1980. Donald led the nation in tackles for loss (2.2 per game), while ranking 10th in forced fumbles (0.33 per game) and 13th in sacks (0.83 per game). Of his 54 total tackles, nearly half have been behind the line of scrimmage (26.5).
Best moment: Winston threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Benjamin with 13 seconds left, leading Florida State to a 34-31 win over No. 2 Auburn in the VIZIO BCS National Championship.
Best quote: "We’re the first team from South Carolina to ever win a BCS bowl." -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney after the 40-35 win over Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl, stirring the pot with rival South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier.
Best play: Florida State’s fake punt: It changed the national championship entirely. Trailing by 18 points, Florida State faced a third-and-4 when receiver Rashad Greene dropped a pass from Winston and the punt unit came onto the field. The Noles caught Auburn snoozing. Karlos Williams took a pitch and ran it for the first down, sustaining a touchdown drive and giving FSU new life.
"We lost momentum in the game, it was 21-3," coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. "I knew with five minutes to go if they got it back and scored, the game could be over right there before half. I knew we had the ball coming out the second half and we're here to win this thing. We weren't here just to show up and play well. And I thought that's what we had to do to gain the momentum of the game back, and it worked and we got it, went down, got the drive and then got back in the ballgame, and hopefully that's what changed the momentum of the game and got our confidence back.”
Best individual performance: Sammy Watkins in the Orange Bowl. He set a school and Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving -- tops among all players during bowl season. Ohio State's defensive backs had no answer for him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Watkins gained 202 yards after the catch, eclipsing his previous career high of 137 yards after catch against Auburn in 2011.
Best game: The VIZIO BCS National Championship. Florida State’s rally from 18 points was the largest in BCS National Championship history, as the Noles battled back from a 21-3 deficit with 5:01 left in the second quarter). The game wasn’t over until FSU scored the game winner with 13 seconds left.
Best regular-season game: Clemson 38, Georgia 35. At the time, this game packed a punch, not only because of the on-field thriller, but also because of what it meant for the league. The ACC finally had the upper hand against the SEC on the big stage in a season opener, and it set the stage for Clemson’s run at the national title. Not only was it a win for the ACC, but the seesaw game lived up to all of the preseason hype and was an instant classic.
Best ACC game: Duke vs. UNC. Cutcliffe was hoisted onto his players’ shoulders and carried off the field in celebration of the Blue Devils’ first Coastal Division title. It was a 27-25 win against their in-state rivals -- on the road -- and was highlighted by DeVon Edwards’ game-sealing interception with 13 seconds left.
Best awards: The ACC won more national individual awards than the other BCS conferences combined. The ACC is the first conference in history to sweep the Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik and Nagurski awards in the same season.
Best stat: The ACC had three victories over nonconference opponents ranked in the AP top 10, as many as the Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC combined.
The ACC spoiled us with great stories in 2013, from Boston College running back Andre Williams’ run at the Heisman, to Duke’s magical season and ending with Florida State’s national title.