For the second year in a row, a team from the ACC earned a spot in the College Football Playoff. Clemson matched Florida State’s run from 2014, finishing the regular season with a 13-0 mark, an ACC Championship and a spot among the top four in the playoff. Coach Dabo Swinney’s team returned only five starters in the preseason but quickly emerged as the team to beat in the ACC. Quarterback Deshaun Watson guided an explosive offense, while the defense reloaded behind ace coordinator Brent Venables.
Clemson garnered most of the national attention from the ACC, but it’s notable the league had two other teams hitting double-digit wins. North Carolina was one of the nation’s most improved programs in 2015, while Florida State finished 10-2 in a rebuilding year. Pittsburgh also had a solid season in coach Pat Narduzzi’s debut, while Miami finished strong under interim coach Larry Scott.
With the regular season completed and bowl season starting on Dec. 19, it’s time to recap and look back at the 2015 campaign. Athlon Sports offers its awards and honors the best players in the league with the first and second all-conference teams for the ACC:
ACC 2015 Season Awards
Offensive Player of the Year: Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson
Florida State running back Dalvin Cook deserves consideration for this honor, but the nod goes to Watson. The sophomore was the catalyst behind Clemson’s run to the No. 1 overall seed in the College Football Playoff, passing for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns. The sophomore also added 887 yards and 11 scores on the ground and recorded four 100-yard rushing games over the Tigers’ last five matchups.
Runner Up: Florida State RB Dalvin Cook
Defensive Player of the Year: Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
It’s a close call between Lawson and Duke safety Jeremy Cash, but a slight edge goes to the Clemson defensive end. Lawson recorded 9.5 sacks, led the ACC with 22.5 tackles for a loss, registered 55 tackles and one forced fumble. The junior was expected to have a breakout season and delivered for a defensive line that had to replace all four starters from last year’s standout group.
Runner Up: Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Swinney guided Clemson to its fifth straight year of at least 10 victories with a perfect 13-0 mark in the regular season. Despite returning only five starters, the Tigers cruised to their first ACC title since 2011 and finished as the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Runner Up: Larry Fedora, North Carolina
Freshman of the Year (Offense): Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
Hyatt was tossed into the fire as a true freshman and aced every test with high marks. The true freshman played the most snaps by any true freshman offensive lineman in school history and started all 13 games. Hyatt’s presence was a big reason why Clemson allowed only 14 sacks in 2015.
Runner Up: Qadree Ollison, RB, Pittsburgh
Co-Freshman of the Year (Defense):Derwin James, S, Florida State/Jordan Whitehead, S, Pittsburgh
Whitehead and James are two of the nation’s rising stars in the secondary and share Athlon Sports’ defensive co-freshman of the year award. Whitehead led Pittsburgh’s defense with 98 tackles and also accumulated 89 yards on offense. James played more as the season progressed and finished with 77 stops (7.5 for a loss), two forced fumbles and three pass breakups.
Runner Up: Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
Coordinator of the Year: Gene Chizik, Defensive Coordinator, North Carolina
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora’s hire of Chizik was the top coordinator hire for 2015. Chizik brought immediate improvement to a defense that ranked near the bottom of the ACC in points and yards per play allowed in 2014. The Tar Heels limited opponents to just 22.6 points a contest and 5.3 yards per play this season. Additionally, this defense surrendered only 23 plays of 30 yards or more after giving up 41 in 2014.
Runner Up: Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator, Boston College
Newcomer of the Year: Devonte Fields, LB, Louisville
Fields was a key piece of Louisville’s defense, which limited ACC opponents to 25 points a game despite returning only four starters in 2015. Fields finished second on the team with eight sacks, led the defense with 19.5 tackles for a loss and recorded two forced fumbles.
Runner Up: Nathan Peterman, QB, Pittsburgh
Breakout Player: Ejuan Price, DE, Pittsburgh
Price had a solid debut for Pittsburgh back in 2011, but injuries robbed the Pennsylvania native of two full seasons (2012 and 2014) and limited him to six games in 2013. The senior returned to the field and made a huge impact for new coach Pat Narduzzi, recording 11.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for a loss. Price also forced one fumble and one pass breakup.