Blog debate: Who is ACC Coach of the Year?

The ACC regular season is in the books and award time is upon us. The conference has already announced its All-ACC team and plans to release its winners for ACC Coach of the Year, Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and others throughout the week. In advance of those announcements, we at the ACC blog decided to give you a look at who we think deserves each honor.

Monday we'll debate coach and rookies of the year. Check back Tuesday for our choices for offensive and defensive players of the year.

Paul Johnson: Georgia Tech was picked to finish fifth in the Coastal Division in the ACC preseason media poll, and there were many in Atlanta growing restless over a string of recent mediocre seasons on The Flats. But Johnson proved once again his triple-option offense works when he has a quarterback who can effectively run it. Justin Thomas has been a steadying force behind center, as Georgia Tech ranks No. 3 in the country in rushing, No. 3 in time of possession and No. 1 in third-down conversions. Meanwhile, the defense has become one of the most opportunistic groups in the nation. Its 123 points off turnovers ranks No. 4 in FBS. Simply put, Georgia Tech has been a revelation this season, and Johnson deserves much of the credit. The Jackets have won 10 games for the first time since 2009 and beat rivals Clemson and Georgia in the same season for the first time since 2008. Johnson should be the slam-dunk choice to win this award. -- Andrea Adelson

Jimbo Fisher: This award tends to be given to the coach who piloted the league’s biggest turnaround, but if the award is for who did the best job coaching, it’s hard to deny Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. Although FSU matched its undefeated preseason expectation, that shouldn’t exclude Fisher from the award. The Seminoles played 11 Power 5 opponents, including a season opener at a neutral site. Sure, the wins were not always impressive, but the Seminoles received every team’s best effort. All you have to do is look at how NC State, Notre Dame and Oklahoma State played against Florida State compared to the rest of their schedule. The Seminoles have played with a pressure no other team has dealt with, too, as they were expected to not just win every game but blow every opponent out despite significant attrition to the NFL from last season's team. Fisher had to rebuild a defense that lost five NFL players and its coordinator. And maybe the biggest testament to the coaching job Fisher has done is the way Florida State has played in second halves. Florida State has adjusted better than any team and never panics. Fisher is as worthy as Johnson, even if it means he didn’t reach the lofty expectations placed on his team in the preseason. -- Jared Shanker

Brad Kaaya: Think back to the quarterback situation at Miami this summer. Stephen Morris was gone. Ryan Williams tore his ACL. Jake Heaps had transferred in but hardly looked impressive. Kevin Olson was in trouble constantly. It was chaos until Kaaya stepped up and won the starting job. He was thrown to the wolves early against Louisville, but he was resilient. And with each passing game, he appeared to get better and better. For the season, Kaaya led the ACC in yards per attempt (8.6), touchdowns (25), passer rating (148.2) and completions of 30 yards or more (22). And he did all that without last year’s star receiver, Stacy Coley, contributing much of anything. The Hurricanes’ offseason will have plenty of big questions yet again in 2015, but thanks to Kaaya’s emergence, quarterback certainly won’t be one of them. -- David Hale

Deshaun Watson: Maybe we shouldn't be glorifying a freshman for playing on a torn ACL, even if it would appear to be relatively harmless in the grand scheme of things. Regardless, it is pretty telling that Clemson went with Watson in that condition against South Carolina, and even more telling that he was flat-out dominant without many hints of discomfort. The QB has been sensational every time he's been on the field, overcoming a spring shoulder injury, a midseason finger injury and now knee injuries to lead Clemson to a 9-3 record during a so-called "rebuilding" year. And that record would at the very least be 10-2, maybe even 11-1, had he started every game from the beginning. (That lone loss being a rout at Georgia Tech last month, when he was knocked out early.) Watson's missed time meant he did not qualify for a Total QBR rating, but among unqualified quarterbacks -- including guys who made brief appearances and have, ahem, "perfect" stats -- Watson finished No. 8. He completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 1,466 yards, 14 TDs and just two picks. He added 200 rushing yards and five TDs on the ground. Watson snapped Clemson's five-game losing streak to the Gamecocks, and he's just getting started. -- Matt Fortuna

Quin Blanding: There are a handful of other freshmen who turned in fine performances on defense this season, but none came close to the impact Blanding made at Virginia. The five-star recruit was one of the most heralded signings in recent UVA history, and he backed up the hype with a tremendous debut season. Blanding finished the regular season second in the ACC in tackles with 123 and 12th in the league with nine passes defended. Those would be impressive enough numbers for any player, but what makes Blanding truly stand out is this: Of the top 100 tacklers in the nation, he’s one of just two true freshmen. -- David Hale