Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
For the second straight year, the ACC started with a thud but managed to pull itself back to respectability in the following weeks. Losses to FCS schools William & Mary and Richmond, coupled with Maryland's home loss to Middle Tennessee, raised eyebrows in September for all the wrong reasons. As we look at the conference now at the halfway point of the season, though, it has showed its fare share of redeemable qualities, most notably the push the Coastal Division has made on the national level. To have three teams ranked among the top 15 in the first BCS standings shows some separation is starting to occur in the conference. ACC fans and officials can take pride in the resurgence of Miami, the continued strength of Virginia Tech, and quick rise of Georgia Tech under coach Paul Johnson.
Of course, there is always room for improvement, and it starts with a 2-2 record against the Colonial Athletic Association. Overall, the ACC is 8-9 against opponents from the BCS conferences and the Mountain West. There was no shame in Virginia Tech’s loss to Alabama, but the Hokies didn’t show up when it counted most -- in the second half at Georgia Tech. Florida State and NC State are weighing the disappointing Atlantic Division down, and Duke is making a case for the best team in North Carolina right now. Teams that were expected to be better -- namely Florida State, NC State and North Carolina -- have instead looked like they’ve regressed. The biggest storylines were not the Hokies’ No. 4 ranking in the Associated Press poll, it was the behind-the-scenes coup in Tallahassee calling for the early retirement of coach Bobby Bowden, and the overwhelming support throughout the league for BC linebacker Mark Herzlich.
Now that every team in the conference has played at least six games, it’s time for a look back at the first half of the season. Here are the conference awards:
Offensive MVP: Virginia Tech running back Ryan Williams. His five 100-yard rushing performances eclipsed Darren Evans’ mark for the most by a Hokie freshman tailback in a season. He’s been named rookie of the week five times by the ACC, and even when he was sick and receiving IV fluids and missed practice time, Williams still rushed for 100 yards at Georgia Tech. He’s eighth in the country with 119.14 rushing yards per game.
Defensive MVP: UNC defensive end Robert Quinn. The sophomore has quickly made a name for himself as one of the best defensive ends in the ACC. He leads the conference and is seventh in the country with 11 tackles for a loss of 69 yards, and is tied for first with three forced fumbles and also has four quarterback hurries. He’s second in the ACC and seventh in the nation with seven sacks for 58 yards. Quinn had a career-high 10 tackles, including 2.5 for loss, at Georgia Tech. He’s a big reason why UNC has one of the top two defenses in the conference.
Biggest surprise: Boston College. Anyone who thought the Eagles would have won five games and been undefeated at home right now is either lying or the most star-crossed season-ticket holder out there. The Eagles lost their top two linebackers, their top two defensive tackles, their quarterback, their head coach and their offensive coordinator -- just to name a few. And yet here they are again -- in position to make a third straight trip to the ACC title game. Wow.
Biggest disappointment: The entire Atlantic Division. NC State, Maryland and Florida State are a combined 1-8 in conference play. If you saw that coming, leave for Vegas. Now. The Pack should have been better in Tom O’Brien’s third season, but even he said the team “regressed” the past two weeks. Maryland looks hapless and FSU has as many problems off the field as it has on it. Clemson played against Wake Forest like it should have been playing the past two or three years, but is still a three-loss team. And Wake Forest’s new goal is getting to a bowl game. No wonder the Eagles are soaring again.
Best game: Miami 38, Florida State 34. This was when the Seminoles still had hope, when FSU was still expected to win the Atlantic Division, and when one play might have changed their season. Trailing 34-31 with an ailing arm, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw a 40-yard pass over double coverage to Travis Benjamin that set up the game-winning touchdown with 1:53 remaining. With five seconds ticking off the clock, Christian Ponder threw to Jarmon Fortson in the end zone, and it was a controversial incomplete call that ended the game with the Canes on top.
Best coach: Frank Spaziani. His first smart move as head coach was to bring in 25-year-old quarterback Dave Shinskie, who has been on more than he has been off for the Eagles. His top linebacker, Herzlich, was diagnosed with cancer in May, and the only quarterback he had with any starting experience, Dominique Davis, decided to transfer. Spaziani inherited more problems than he did answers and yet he has the Eagles in contention to win the Atlantic Division for a third straight season.