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Wednesday, December 8, 2010
ACC conference overview

By Heather Dinich

The entire season seemed to center around Virginia Tech -- first its failure, and ultimately, its success. The ACC once again placed its national championship hopes in the hands of the Hokies, but that faded fast with the season-opening loss to Boise State. Five days and an inexplicable loss later, Virginia Tech seemed doomed. The Hokies were the joke of the ACC after their loss to James Madison, but nobody in the program was laughing. Instead, they were planning their turnaround. Virginia Tech hasn’t lost since, and will represent the ACC against Stanford in the Discover Orange Bowl.

With the exception of its 0-2 start, Virginia Tech was the most consistent team in the ACC and the clear-cut favorite to win the Coastal Division. Georgia Tech simply wasn’t as good as it was when it won the title in 2009, Miami failed to take another step forward in the fourth season under Randy Shannon, and North Carolina beat itself with NCAA investigations that ultimately derailed the careers of 14 players. The Tar Heels made the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in the first half of the season, but much like Virginia Tech fought back after an 0-2 start to become bowl-eligible. Instead of getting better as the season progressed, Miami seemed to take a step back, losing to Virginia and, in the season finale, to South Florida. Shannon was fired hours later and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland was named interim head coach and tasked with picking up the pieces.

The Atlantic Division race turned out to be the more entertaining, as NC State and Maryland were surprise contenders in late November. Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen earned the ACC’s Coach of the Year for the second-best turnaround in the FBS, transforming his 2-10 2009 season to an eight-win team that was bowl eligible before November. The Terps rebounded from their loss to Florida State and played the spoiler role against NC State in the season finale. Good seasons could have been great ones for both Maryland and NC State, but neither took advantage of the opportunity and Florida State snuck into the title game in Jimbo Fisher’s first year.

It was a signature season for Fisher, who managed to put his stamp on the program just one year after replacing legendary coach Bobby Bowden. Not only did the Seminoles finish 6-2, they were able to beat rival Florida for the first time since 2003, a span of six games. Florida State ended the season as the only team in the state ranked in the BCS standings, beating both Miami and Florida in convincing fashion.

It was a much-needed win against the SEC, as the ACC once again struggled in its nonconference games. With five teams ranked in the preseason polls and only two -- Florida State and Virginia Tech -- still standing in the final BCS standings, the ACC didn’t underachieve it was overrated.

Tyrod Taylor
Tyrod Taylor finished the season with 2,521 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and a passer rating of 159.04.
Offensive MVP: Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. With three touchdowns against FSU in the title game, Taylor set the school single-season record for touchdown passes with 23. He was the game’s MVP for the second time in his career, and will leave as the winningest quarterback in school history.

Defensive MVP: Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. The Bronko Nagurski winner is a big-play pass rusher who led the nation in quarterback sacks with 15.5 (1.29 a game). He was second in the country in tackles for loss with 24.5 (151 yards). He had nine tackles, one quarterback sack, two tackles for loss and a pass interception in the Tigers' 16-13 loss to Florida State.

Newcomer of the year: Maryland quarterback Danny O'Brien: He has thrown 21 touchdown passes and just six interceptions. His touchdown total ranks second in school history, while his interception percentage of 1.90 (six picks in 315 attempts) leads all FBS freshmen quarterbacks.

Coach of the Year: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer: This might have been the best coaching job of Beamer’s career. He rallied his team from an 0-2 start and guided them on an 11-game winning streak, the best turnaround in FBS history. The Hokies became the first team to go undefeated in league play since Florida State in 2000.

Biggest surprise: Maryland. The Terps were picked to finish last in the Atlantic Division and coach Ralph Friedgen’s job was on the line, but Maryland completed the second-best turnaround in the FBS behind Miami (Ohio) and won eight games after a 2-10 season in 2009.

Biggest disappointment: Miami. North Carolina rivaled the Canes for this spot, but considering the way Miami finished the season -– with a loss to South Florida and the firing of Randy Shannon -– it was well below expectations for a team with a veteran quarterback and coach.

Game of the year: Virginia Tech 41, NC State 30. It was one of the most impressive comebacks in school history, as the Hokies rallied from a 17-point deficit and to beat No. 23 NC State on the road. It was a game that put Virginia Tech in the driver’s seat for the Coastal Division race and prevented NC State from doing the same.