There are 39 bowl games plus a national championship this year, but with the college football regular season finished, now is a good time to take stock of the regular season, conference by conference, with league awards and grades for every Power Five team.
Offensive Player of the Year: Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville. Jackson is an even more obvious choice for the honor than last year, when he won the Heisman and Louisville had one more win. That's because there was no Deshaun Watson to compete with in 2017. Jackson has been the ACC's best offensive player by a wide margin despite Louisville's struggles for a significant chunk of the season. Jackson averages 411 yards of total offense per game, and he improbably leads the ACC in both passing yards and rushing yards. He also has 42 total touchdowns, and he's largely responsible for the Cardinals ranking third nationally in yards per play.
Defensive Player of the Year: Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State. You could reasonably pick any of the four Clemson starting linemen -- Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant -- for this spot, but, ultimately, Chubb has had the best individual season of any ACC defender. He returned for his senior season and leads the ACC in tackles for loss with 25 and sacks with 10, and he has 73 tackles and three forced fumbles. Chubb has been just about as good as any defender in the country.
Coach of the Year: Dabo Swinney, Clemson. It can be hard for proven coaches like Swinney -- the defending national champion -- to win coach of the year awards because expectations are so high, but he deserves it: He continues to recruit and develop talent at a high level, allowing Clemson to replace Deshaun Watson and still go 12-1, win a third straight ACC championship, finish the regular season ranked No. 1 and earn a third straight playoff bid. Swinney is leading a golden age of Clemson football.
Freshman of the Year: A.J. Dillon, RB, Boston College. The 240-pound true freshman injected life into the Boston College offense. The Eagles jumped from 96th to 24th in rushing yards per game behind Dillon, who has 268 carries for 1,432 yards and 13 TDs. Dillon has had over 190 yards on the ground in four of his past six games, including 272 in a stunning 45-42 win over Louisville that served as a breakthrough game for the Eagles offense.
How successful should this season be viewed by each team? Grades for each team's regular season reflect 2017 achievements within the context of program history and expectations.
Clemson (12-1): A. Ultimately, the Friday night loss at Syracuse didn't matter, just as last year's home loss to Pitt didn't matter. When a team is as talented and well-coached as Clemson is, it can afford one loss in the playoff era. The Tigers lost Deshaun Watson, the greatest player in school history, and they also lost key players like WR Mike Williams, RB Wayne Gallman, TE Jordan Leggett, LB Ben Boulware and CB Cordrea Tankersley. And yet here they are, back in the playoff for the third straight year with their third straight ACC championship. The Tigers won key games against Auburn and N.C. State tight, they pulled away from Florida State and they won by double digits against Louisville, Virginia Tech, Miami and South Carolina. The offense took a step back, but the defense has been outstanding. Clemson won a national title a year ago, and it's showing that it has staying power with a chance to win another one.
Miami (10-2): A-. The ending was ugly, with a loss at unranked Pitt and a blowout ACC championship loss to Clemson, but 10-2 is still 10-2. During some Miami football eras, 10-2 would be a disappointment. After the past decade and a half, however, it's a massive step forward for the program under second-year coach Mark Richt. Miami joined the ACC in 2004, but -- with the help of the now-famous turnover chain -- this is the first time that it has won the ACC Coastal and won 10 games in a season in that span. It's only the beginning, too: There's talent on this roster, but the offense had injury problems and inconsistency. Richt and his staff are recruiting well, and thus this season is merely laying the foundation for what the Hurricanes are capable of doing again.
Wake Forest (7-5): B+. The Demon Deacons have won seven games for the second year in a row and have an opportunity to win eight for the first time since 2008. The regular season ended on a low note in a loss to Duke, but the big reason the grade is so positive here is how the offense was transformed in Dave Clawson's fourth season. Remember, this is the team that has three wins in which it scored seven points or less in the past four years (the rest of the FBS has a total of two). The 2017 Demon Deacons improved from 125th to 30th in yards per play and 118th to 32nd in scoring. QB John Wolford improved from 191 yards of total offense per game to 310 and 13th in the ACC in passer rating to first. This team was often fun to watch, which represents a big step forward.
Boston College (7-5): B+. In some respects, Boston College's offensive improvement was overstated: The Eagles have climbed from 126th to 111th in yards per play and 118th to 82nd in scoring. Beyond big games from RB A.J. Dillon, this hasn't been any sort of offensive juggernaut. Still, with coach Steve Addazio on the hot seat, Dillon had a breakout freshman season -- especially in the second half -- and the Eagles put up 35-plus points in five of their last six games, including a 45-42 win over Louisville and a 35-3 win over Florida State. Plus, four of their five losses are to top-25 teams. It's a relatively successful year that pushed Addazio off the hot seat.
Virginia Tech (9-3): B. A 9-3 record is about what most expected coming into the season. QB Jerod Evans, TE Bucky Hodges and WR Isaiah Ford all left early after last season's ACC Coastal title, putting the offense in the hands of redshirt freshman Josh Jackson. Jackson had some big moments -- particularly the win over West Virginia in his debut -- but the offense leveled off late in the season, as the team hasn't scored more than 24 points since Oct. 21. Jackson flashed potential for the future, though, and once again coordinator Bud Foster built an impressive defense, which ranks 15th in yards per play allowed. It's been a mostly unremarkable but solid season that can end on a high note if the Hokies beat Oklahoma State in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
N.C. State (8-4): B. On one hand: N.C. State finished alone in second in the ACC Coastal -- two games ahead of third -- for the first time. It is ranked 24th in the playoff top 25, and it has a chance to finish a season ranked in the AP poll and win nine games for only the second time in the past 15 seasons. The Wolfpack have an All-American defensive end in Bradley Chubb, they won in Tallahassee and they beat the defending Heisman winner and Louisville by two TDs. On the other hand: The Wolfpack didn't quite take advantage of the opportunity they had. Yes, their division is tough, but they lost the opener to South Carolina and got blown out by Notre Dame to finish 8-4 overall in the regular season. The defensive line is excellent, but the defense as a whole ranks 53rd in yards per play. This team looked like a top-15 team at times, and yet it needs to win the Sun Bowl to avoid a solid but unspectacular 8-5 record. N.C. State's season was better than usual but not as good as it could have been.
Virginia (6-6): B. The Cavaliers have lost five of their last six games and also lost to rival Virginia Tech for the 14th year in a row in a shutout. Still, a bowl trip is a bowl trip for this program. Virginia stayed home for the postseason in eight of the past nine years, going to a bowl only in 2011 after winning nine games in 2007. That means that six wins is the second-highest win total for the school in a decade, a positive step forward for the Cavs in the second year under coach Bronco Mendenhall, who went 2-10 in his debut in 2016. Virginia won three ACC games, but its most impressive result was a 42-23 win on the blue turf at Boise State.
Duke (6-6): B-. Don't take Duke bowl trips for granted: From 1995-2011, the Blue Devils didn't play in the postseason once. During that span, they had four winless seasons and two more one-win seasons. So even though the Blue Devils have fallen off from the peak under David Cutcliffe from 2013-15, they rebounded from last year's fall to 4-8 to get back to six wins and go bowling for the fifth time in six years. They started 4-0 with a blowout win over Northwestern (now 9-3) and a 10-point win over rival North Carolina. Then the Blue Devils fell apart with six straight losses, including four by a touchdown or less as the offense struggled. But they rebounded to beat both Georgia Tech and Wake Forest to go bowling. Through all the ups and downs, the defense improved from 12th to fifth in the ACC in yards per play allowed. The most frustration rests in sophomore QB Daniel Jones not taking an expected step forward.
Louisville (8-4): C+. Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, returned for his junior season and nearly matched the output of that Heisman season. He averages over 400 yards of total offense per game and continues to make dazzling plays as a passer and as a runner on a consistent basis. And yet: Louisville did not take advantage. Last year, the Cardinals faltered down the stretch, losing their last three games to finish 9-4 after contending for a playoff spot. This year, the defense was a mess much of the season, and the Cardinals lost by double digits at Clemson and N.C. State and lost shootouts to Boston College and Wake Forest. They did beat Florida State, at least, and the defense stepped up in November, teaming with Jackson to lead the Cardinals to three straight wins. Louisville can still finish in the top 25 with a bowl win, but going 4-4 in the ACC with a two-time Heisman finalist can't help but feel disappointing.
Syracuse (4-8): C. The only thing "saving" this grade is the win over Clemson. On Friday, Oct. 13, Syracuse beat then-No. 2 Clemson 27-24 in a performance that didn't even look like a fluke. The Orange played a better game, and they appeared to be on the rise in Year 2 under coach Dino Babers as they took aim at a bowl bid at 4-3. But after all that positive attention, it turned out to be Syracuse's last win of the season: The Orange lost five straight to Miami (by eight), Florida State (three), Wake Forest (21), Louisville (46) and Boston College (28), although the absence of injured QB Eric Dungey clearly played a role late. There were positive signs, but ultimately the offense ranks 95th in yards per play, Syracuse won just two ACC games and it lost a nonconference home game to Middle Tennessee. It's the Orange's third straight 4-8 season.
Pittsburgh (5-7): C-. The Panthers salvaged some pride at the end of the season by spoiling Miami's perfect season on Black Friday. Before then, there wasn't much to be excited about: Pitt went 5-7, missing the postseason for the first time since 2007, the season it also ended by beating a team ranked No. 2. The Panthers rank 93rd in yards per play on offense and 91st on defense, with the offense falling from 13th in 2016 after losing coordinator Matt Canada and some key pieces. Beyond beating Miami, the late-season positive was the emergence of a promising freshman QB in Kenny Pickett.
Georgia Tech (5-6): C-. The Yellow Jackets lost a heartbreaking Labor Day opener against Tennessee, which set the tone for the season as a whole. They also lost by one point against Miami and four by four against Virginia. A November win over Virginia Tech provided some late positivity, but Georgia Tech squandered bowl eligibility with back-to-back blowout losses to Duke and Georgia. As usual, the running offense was strong, with TaQuon Marshall emerging as a productive option quarterback and KirVonte Benson joining him in the thousand-yard club. Nevertheless, Georgia Tech is home for the postseason for the second time in three years after an 18-year bowl streak.
Florida State (6-6): D. In late October, with Florida State at 2-5, we wrote about how the Seminoles were on the verge of one of the most disappointing seasons in college football history. Fortunately, they escaped that fate, in part, by getting to 6-6 with the help of a rescheduled game against UL Monroe. The Seminoles beat Florida, again, and they extended their bowl streak to 37 years. They did this after losing starting QB Deondre Francois to an injury in Week 1. But this is Florida State. It is loaded with top recruiting talent that will play in the pros. The offensive line has been inconsistent, and the defense has underperformed. The Noles also lost by 32 to Boston College. A season that started with a No. 3 ranking and playoff hopes ends in the Independence Bowl without coach Jimbo Fisher, who left for Texas A&M.
North Carolina (3-9): D. Two years ago, North Carolina led the nation in yards per play, won 10 games, won the ACC Coastal and finished in the AP top 25 for the first time since 1997. The Tar Heels fell to 8-5 last year despite having Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. With Trubisky gone, they plummeted to 3-9, beating only Old Dominion, Pitt and Western Carolina. They lost by 52 to Virginia Tech and were swept by rivals Duke and N.C. State, and Larry Fedora's formerly explosive offense has fallen all the way to 97th in yards per play.
Sports on Earth All-ACC Team
QB: Lamar Jackson, Louisville
RB: A.J. Dillon, Boston College
RB: Nyheim Hines, N.C. State
WR: Steve Ishmael, Syracuse
WR: Cam Phillips, Virginia Tech
TE: Cam Serigne, Wake Forest
OL: Mitch Hyatt, Clemson
OL: Wyatt Teller, Virginia Tech
OL: Tyrone Crowder, Clemson
OL: Tony Adams, N.C. State
OL: Parker Braun, Georgia Tech
DE: Bradley Chubb, N.C. State
DE: Clelin Ferrell, Clemson
DT: Dexter Lawrence, Clemson
DT: Christian Wilkins, Clemson
LB: Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
LB: Micah Kiser, Virginia
LB: Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
CB: Mark Gilbert, Duke
CB: Greg Stroman, Virginia Tech
S: Quin Blanding, Virginia
S: Derwin James, Florida State
K: Michael Badgley, Miami
P: Ryan Winslow, Pittsburgh