ACC mailbag: Debating contenders for playoff, Heisman, coach of the year


It’s the final weekend of the regular season, and hopefully most of you have recovered from your food comas. Let’s dig into the mailbag while you’re stuck in line at the mall ...

David Hale: This has to be among the toughest ACC coach of the year races in recent memory. Jimbo Fisher never gets credit, but he's done a terrific job keeping Florida State afloat in spite of so much turnover. While Gene Chizik deserves partial credit, Larry Fedora has exceeded all expectations at North Carolina. And, of course, you can't ignore the guy coaching the No. 1 team in the country. Considering it's a completely new staff, a new starting QB and Pitt's best player went down to a season-ending injury in Week 1, Pat Narduzzi certainly would be high up on the ballot, too. Personally, I'd probably go with Dabo Swinney, but I wouldn't argue with a vote for any of those four coaches.

Hale: Dalvin Cook probably needs a few of the other Heisman contenders -- namely Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey -- to fall flat this week, too, but the bare minimum he'll need to accomplish against the Gators to grab headlines and Heisman votes is the stat line Leonard Fournette posted: 195 yards and two touchdowns. Oh, and FSU needs to win.

Hale: There's no doubt this comes into play. Cook's preseason legal trouble, regardless of the verdict, provides an asterisk on his candidacy, and a lot of voters won't want to run the risk of seeming to endorse a player who was accused of assault on a woman. Add the controversy that surrounded Jameis Winston's campaign two years ago -- and the fact that Winston again got in trouble after winning the award -- and it's relatively easy for voters to get on their soap boxes rather than crunch the numbers, particularly for an award like the Heisman, which has a specific character clause built into the mission statement.

Hale: The one way this can happen is if North Carolina loses to NC State this week, then beats Clemson in the ACC title game. That would be chaos for the committee, which might need to decide between two-loss UNC (with a conference title), two-loss Stanford (with a conference title) or one-loss Clemson (without a conference title). Odds are they'd go with the Cardinal and avoid the bulk of the controversy, as they did with the Big 12 last year.

Hale: The assumption has been that Syracuse and Virginia Tech already have a pretty good idea of the direction they want to go, so those searches probably have a bit less intrigue. Miami's search will be the biggest story, and if Virginia opens, that hire will say a lot about the commitment of the administration to fielding a successful football program. And, of course, with Larry Fedora's name coming up in South Carolina rumors, and the LSU job still up in the air, we could see more shifts, too. This has all the makings for a wild December in coaching circles around the country.

Hale: Louisville-Kentucky is probably the most underrated because, A) it's new to the ACC, and B) neither program has much historical success, but the hatred among fan bases is real, and it's a little like Clemson-South Carolina before Swinney and Steve Spurrier took that rivalry to the national stage. As far as rivalries between two ACC schools, my Twitter feed the last few weeks would suggest NC State and UNC has about as much hostility as any.

Hale: A win at Florida and a UNC loss in the ACC championship game is the recipe for Florida State. If North Carolina edges Clemson, however, both the Heels and Tigers would be locks for New Year's Six games, and the ACC isn't getting three teams into the mix.

Hale: That's impossible to answer because talent on the field still trumps coaching ability. I'd love to have David Cutcliffe on the sideline for a big game, but I'd take FSU's talent over Duke's regardless of who was coaching the Seminoles. But as far as big-game coaches go, it would be hard to argue with Fisher as the best of the ACC, right?

Hale: Let's just say if an ACC team ends up in the Peach Bowl, I will put on a few pounds from the Chick-fil-A spread.