The ACC is expected to announce the league’s Rookie of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year and ACC Coach of the Year around 1 p.m. today. It will be interesting to see who wins what, but if there’s one true freshman in the league who can’t be ignored, it’s Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.
He’s No. 15 in the country in receiving yards per game, No. 25 in total receiving yards, fourth in the ACC in scoring and second in kick return average. He also leads the ACC in all-purpose yardage. It should be a tight race with UNC tailback Giovani Bernard, who is third in the ACC in rushing and tied for first in the ACC with 14 touchdowns. Bernard became the first UNC freshman to earn first-team All-ACC honors since cornerback Dre' Bly in 1996. He rushed for a school freshman record 1,222 yards and led all ACC running backs with 13 rushing touchdowns. He became the first Tar Heel to rush for 1,000 yards since Jonathan Linton in 1997.
Defensively, Wake Forest cornerback Merrill Noel, a redshirt freshman, should be a front-runner, as he leads the nation in passes broken up with 19. He also leads the country in passes defended with 20. Noel finished the season third on the team with 59 total tackles including 48 solo stops. Florida State true freshman defensive tackle Tim Jernigan and Miami freshman linebacker Denzel Perryman should also receive consideration.
As for the Coach of the Year race, there’s no shortage of candidates this year, as Mike London, Jim Grobe, and Dabo Swinney have all exceeded expectations, and of course Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has done another outstanding job -- this time with a first-year starting quarterback and an injury-laden defense. Swinney has probably been the front-runner for most of the season, but the Tigers have faltered down the stretch. NC State coach Tom O’Brien has also done an impressive job, rallying his team to a bowl game when many counted the Pack out.
Grobe deserves consideration because he transformed a three-win team from last year into a bowl team this year and put the Deacs in contention to win the Atlantic Division title this year. London, though, might have made the biggest difference this year, and it was only his second season. The Cavaliers were picked to finish fifth in their division and last week had a chance to win it all before losing 38-0 to Virginia Tech.
I’m fortunate I don’t have to pick until AFTER the ACC championship game, because to me, that makes a difference. What if Swinney gets it together and shocks everyone with another convincing win over the Hokies? What if Beamer steamrolls the Tigers like he did last week against Virginia?
To me, this race isn’t over yet, but if I had to predict who would win today, I’d go with London.
Check the blog around 1 p.m. for the final results.