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December 11, 2006

Postseason breakdown: ACC

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In its second full season as a 12-team league, the ACC's season was anything but dull.

The league's champion, Wake Forest, was arguably one of the most compelling stories in college football season. The Demon Deacons captured their first conference title since 1970 despite being picked near the bottom of their division in the preseason.

While his team's season propelled Jim Grobe into the national spotlight, this season may be remembered more because other coaches' struggles. North Carolina's John Bunting was dismissed by the third week in October and ultimately was replaced by Butch Davis. At N.C. State, Chuck Amato was fired and was succeeded by Tom O'Brien, who left BC in a rare intra-conference switch.

Miami endured a trying season on and off the field. The Hurricanes suffered an opening-game loss to Florida State and never managed to recover. In early November, defensive tackle Bryan Pata was killed in yet-to-be solved murder just miles from the Coral Gables campus. A 6-6 finish led to the ouster of coach Larry Coker.

We'll touch on those things and more as we look back at the 2006 ACC season.

ACC Standings
Rivals.com's Preseason Predictions:
Atlantic Division Coastal Division
1. Florida State 1. Miami
2. Clemson 2. Virginia Tech
3. Boston College 3. Georgia Tech
4. Maryland 4. North Carolina
5. N.C. State 5. Virginia
6. Wake Forest 6. Duke
Championship Game:
Miami over Florida State
Final standings:
Atlantic Division Coastal Division
1. Wake Forest 1. Georgia Tech
2. Boston College 2. Virginia Tech
3. Clemson 3. Virginia
4. Maryland 4. Miami
5. Florida State 5. North Carolina
6. N.C. State 6. Duke
Championship Game:
Wake Forest over Georgia Tech
Offensive MVP: Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner was certainly valuable for the ACC champion Demon Deacons. Still, the nod in this category goes to Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson. One of the nation's best wide receivers, Johnson accumulated 59 catches for 899 yards and 13 touchdowns in a Yellow Jacket offense that completed just 46 percent of its passes. In fact, the dynamic Johnson was responsible for 47 percent of Georgia Tech's completions and 59 percent of their touchdown passes. Runner-up: Skinner.
Defensive MVP: Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams had 10.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss this season. At one point he had sacks in eight consecutive games. His pass-rushing ability altered game plans, and he was a consistent force on a Clemson defense beset by injuries at times. It would be re-miss not to mention the entire Wake Forest defense unit, led by linebacker Jon Abbate and safety Josh Gattis. The Deacons' resiliency on defense was a key ingredient in their success this season. Runners-up: Wake Forest defense, Florida State's Buster Davis
Coach of the Year: Jim Grobe's success this season is mind-boggling enough given the school's academic standards and size. Despite those drawbacks, Grobe he went 11-2 despite losing two key offensive performers in Ben Mauck and Micah Andrews. Grobe would have won this category if Wake simply finished with a winning record. His remarkable year makes his selection an easy one. Runner-up: Maryland's Ralph Friedgen.
Freshman of the Year: C.J. Spiller pulled one of the shockers of the 2006 National Signing Day by picking Clemson over in-state schools like Florida and Florida State. The electrifying back, the nation's top all-purpose back and eighth overall prospect in the 2006 class by Rivals.com, became the perfect backfield complement to James Davis. Spiller rushed for 914 yards (7.4 per carry) and 10 touchdowns while also catching 19 passes for 210 yards. His blazing speed has Clemson fans looking fondly to the future.
Coordinator of the Year: Virginia Tech may have had better defenses in recent years, but the Hokies really relied on the defense this season. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster guided a unit that ranked best in the ACC and the nation in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense. At some point, a program will opt to hire Foster as head coach and finally disrupt the defensive continuity that Frank Beamer has had on his staff. Runners-up: Georgia Tech's Jon Tenuta, Clemson's Rob Spence, Wake Forest's Dean Hood.
Surprise team: Haven't we mentioned the Deacons enough? They likely were the surprise team in the nation. To be honest, the ACC had several surprising teams this season. Maryland and Georgia Tech both had solid seasons that were above expectations. Virginia Tech, given its inexperience offensively, performed slightly better than most prognosticators predicted.
Disappointing team: This category has a lot of options. Still, it comes down to Florida State and Miami - both of which were preseason favorites in their respective divisions. Given the fact that they beat Miami in the opening game and yet finished with the same record, the Seminoles may be the selection here. FSU's offense again struggled mightily. There were instances this year where home losses to Troy and Western Michigan seemed quite possible entering the final quarter. The Seminoles' ineptness on offense ultimately led to the resignation of offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden. Miami's season was equally disappointing. Given the tumultuous and tragic circumstances, the Hurricanes arguably deserve a pass here.
Team on the rise: Wake Forest might be the answer for many, but the praise of the Deacons has to end somewhere. Clemson may have had a disappointing finish to its season, but the Tigers' future looks bright. With both Spiller and James back, Clemson will have the most potent offensive tandem in the conference next season. Another strong recruiting year, led by five-star quarterback Willy Korn, should keep the Tigers near the top of the ACC in near future. Also, North Carolina has hired a man in Butch Davis that might awaken "the sleeping giant" - a term Bobby Bowden once used to describe the North Carolina football program. Davis' arrival and a potential top-15 recruiting class might be the perfect confluence of events for the Tar Heels' future.
Best game: It proved inconsequential in the final standings, but Boston College's 34-33 double-overtime victory over Clemson was the ACC's best offering of the season. The game was back-and-forth throughout and was decided on - of all things - a missed extra point.
Biggest upset: By season-end record it might not have been an upset, but Wake Forest's 30-0 victory at Florida State was still shocking in terms of margin. The game was the first home shutout in Bobby Bowden's tenure.
Most likely to win bowl game: Virginia Tech vs. Georgia in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. The Hokies might have been playing the best football toward the end of the season. Honestly, the ACC looks to have a tough time in all the other matchups.
Most likely to lose bowl game: Here's the category where Wake doesn't get all the props. The Deacons face Louisville in the Orange Bowl. It's a great reward for their terrific season, but Wake may be a little overmatched against the Cardinals and that high-powered offensive attack.
Worth noting: For the second consecutive year eight ACC teams earn bowl bids ... Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech are among six teams nationally that have appeared in at least 10 consecutive bowl games ... ACC set a season attendance mark drawing 4,485,625 over 85 dates ... Six ACC teams finish with eight or more victories ... Eight of the 12 ACC teams have been ranked at least one week this season ... ACC teams started 21 different quarterbacks during the 2006 regular season, including 12 who made their first career start. . Virginia Tech leads the nation in total defense (221.1), pass defense (128.2) and scoring defense (9.3).
Season prediction record: 70-26. Season against the spread: 7-6.

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