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Making Justin Fuente's case for ACC coach of the year

The ACC’s annual awards will be given out this week, and the ACC blog is taking a look at the candidates for coach of the year and offensive, defensive and overall player of the year.

On Monday, we start with the conference’s coach of the year award.

Favorite: Virginia Tech's Justin Fuente

Too often the coach of the year award simply goes to the coach who orchestrated the biggest turnaround or exceeded media expectations. It’s not always indicative of which coach truly did the best coaching job. This is a year in which that coach who flipped the standings is the most deserving candidate. The Hokies didn’t just win three more regular-season games in 2016 than they did in 2015, but they did it while navigating a transition that easily could have caused a schism within the program. Fuente took over for Virginia Tech icon Frank Beamer, kept long-time assistant Bud Foster on staff and magnificently incorporated several of Beamer’s principles with his own. Now they could be headed to an ACC championship and Orange Bowl berth.

Contender: Clemson's Dabo Swinney

It’s no easy task going undefeated. It’s especially difficult trying to do it in consecutive regular seasons as the team spends the fall wearing a target on its back. The Tigers ultimately fell a game short and finished 11-1, but Swinney has the Tigers on the cusp of the College Football Playoff again. Clemson is ranked third in strength of record, and that’s a product of Swinney leading his team into hostile environments at Auburn and Florida State and coming away with wins. Throw in a win against Louisville and Lamar Jackson, and that’s a rock-solid case for Swinney winning coach of the year. Now add in the fact that the Tigers had to rebuild their defense for a second straight year, and it’s probably enough to win coach of the year in most seasons.

Dark horse: Wake Forest's Dave Clawson

It’s been a slow build at Wake Forest, but the Demon Deacons are heading to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. Clawson isn’t in consideration for simply exceeding expectations. There was a solid chance the Deacs would go bowling because of the strong coaching job Clawson had been doing in the early portion of his Wake Forest tenure. There were going to be a few rough patches, but Wake Forest has steadily improved before this breakout season. Clawson reached six wins despite playing three different quarterbacks, but what might be most impressive is that Wake Forest played Clemson, Florida State and Louisville tough.