The ACC was considered by some to be the weakest of the Power 5 leagues in 2015, but at the halfway point of the 2015 college football season, this conference features two playoff contenders – Florida State and Clemson – as well as an entertaining race once again in the Coastal Division. The Seminoles and Tigers are 6-0 headed into Week 8, and both teams are improving with each snap and more development from the young players on both sides of the ball.
The Coastal Division has experienced its share of crazy finishes over the last few seasons. And after seven weeks, Pittsburgh, Duke and North Carolina are the three unbeaten teams in conference play – not Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech. Just like everyone predicted, right?
Here are some award winners, plus second-half predictions from the ACC in 2015:
ACC Midseason Review and Second-Half Predictions
Offensive Player of the Year: Dalvin Cook, RB, Florida State
Cook’s play has made life after Jameis Winston a little easier for coach Jimbo Fisher. The sophomore ranks second nationally with 159.2 rushing yards per game, averages 8.7 yards per carry and has two 200-yard efforts this season. Despite suffering a hamstring injury against Wake Forest, Cook has rushed for 385 yards in his last two games.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jeremy Cash, S, Duke
Cash is a big reason why Duke leads the ACC in scoring defense through Week 7. The senior has accumulated 47 stops, 11.5 tackles for a loss, 1.5 sacks, two pass breakups and three forced fumbles in 2015.
Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson
The ACC has a couple of worthy candidates here, but a tip of the cap goes to Swinney. Clemson had to replace one of the nation’s top offensive assistants (Chad Morris) prior to 2015, but the offense hasn’t missed a beat (35.2), and the defense has quickly reloaded despite returning only two starters. Through seven weeks, Swinney has the Tigers at 6-0 and poised to challenge for a playoff spot.
Related: 10 Coordinators on the Rise in 2015
Freshman of the Year: Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
A strong argument could be made for Pittsburgh safety Jordan Whitehead or Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson here, but Hyatt has started all six games at left tackle for a Clemson offense averaging 35.2 points per game.
Newcomer of the Year: Everett Golson, QB, Florida State
With each snap, Golson is getting more comfortable in Florida State’s offense, and the Notre Dame transfer has yet to throw an interception on 177 attempts in 2015. Golson has connected on 119 of 177 passes for 1,449 yards and 11 scores and is completing nearly 70 percent (69.6) of his passes after halftime.
Biggest Disappointment: Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets won the Coastal Division last year and were picked by some to repeat and contend for the ACC title. However, Georgia Tech is off to a 2-5 start and is 0-4 in conference play. The culprits for the slow start? Injuries and transition to the skill players took a toll, the offense has lost 10 turnovers, and the defense is giving up 27.4 points a game. Once thought to be a lock for a bowl game, Georgia Tech may need an upset over Florida State or Georgia just to get to 6-6 this year.
Biggest Surprise: Coastal Trio of North Carolina, Duke and Pittsburgh
Take a look at the Coastal standings after Week 7. The usual contenders – Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech – are at the bottom, while Pittsburgh, Duke and North Carolina have combined for a 10-0 start in conference play. While there’s a lot to be settled, the Coastal Division could have a first-time representative in the ACC Championship. These three teams are the surprise of the ACC through seven weeks.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. Florida State or Clemson?
Everything suggests Florida State and Clemson are on a collision course for a huge showdown in Death Valley on Nov. 7. Assuming both teams are still unbeaten by then, the Nov. 7 showdown will have national title, playoff and ACC Championship implications. Clemson ranks as the better team so far in most polls, but Florida State has not lost an ACC game since Oct. 6, 2012.
2. Which Team Steps Up in the Coastal Division?
As we mentioned above, the favorites to contend in the offseason are at the bottom of the Coastal Division, while Duke, North Carolina and Pittsburgh are the frontrunners to play in the conference title game. It’s unlikely any of the Coastal teams make it through the rest of the way without a loss, so a 6-2 record in conference play could win the division. Which team steps up in the Coastal in the second half? Or will the ACC have to examine the tiebreakers for a three-way tie at the end of the year?
3. Coaches on the Hot Seat
Will the ACC have an active coaching carousel this offseason? The next six weeks are critical for a handful of coaches, namely Virginia’s Mike London, Miami’s Al Golden and Syracuse’s Scott Shafer.
Top Five Games in the Second Half
1. Florida State at Clemson (Nov. 7)
The ACC’s best teams square off in Death Valley, with the winner staying alive for a spot in college football’s four-team playoff.
2. Florida State at Florida (Nov. 28)
If Florida State gets by Clemson, the Seminoles should be 11-0 headed into Gainesville for a matchup against their in-state rival.
3. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh (Nov. 7)
Could the Panthers spoil Notre Dame’s playoff hopes with a win on Nov. 7? A must-see matchup between Pat Narduzzi’s defense against Brian Kelly’s offense.
4. Clemson at Miami (Oct. 24)
The ACC’s top quarterbacks – Deshaun Watson (Clemson) and Brad Kaaya (Miami) square off in a key game for both teams. This is only Clemson’s second road trip of the year, and Miami needs a win to move coach Al Golden off the hot seat.
5. Pittsburgh at Duke (Nov. 14), Duke at North Carolina (Nov. 7)
We could mention a few Coastal matchups here, but let’s group two in the No. 5 slot. A week after a road trip to North Carolina, Duke has a home date against Pittsburgh on Nov. 14. It’s a safe bet there’s clarity in the Coastal after these two games.