As we head into the last week of the regular season, it’s time for your annual Late Hits awards:
Player of the year
National and ACC: Lamar Jackson (QB, Louisville)
In-state: Zay Jones (WR, East Carolina)
Louisville’s meltdown at Houston on Thursday night prompted some misguided questions about Lamar Jackson’s Heisman Trophy candidacy.
Jackson was not good in the Cardinals’ 36-10 road loss, but the Heisman is not a vote based on one game but the whole season.
The sophomore quarterback has run for 1,367 yards and 19 touchdowns and has passed for 3,109 yards and 28 touchdowns. Those numbers figure to get better after a crack at Kentucky, which ranks No. 105 in the country in rushing defense.
Jackson has been the best player in the country, which makes the vote fairly easy. It’s even easier when you start trying to find other candidates.
Alabama freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts (30 total touchdowns) and Texas junior running back D’Onta Foreman (1,863 rushing yards in 10 games) deserve a trip to New York City for the ceremony, but Jackson is the only real choice.
From our in-state group, East Carolina receiver Zay Jones has an incredible 151 catches (48 more than anyone else in the country) and 1,685 receiving yards, which also leads the country.
Coach of the year
National: Nick Saban (Alabama)
ACC: Justin Fuente (Virginia Tech)
In-state: David Cutcliffe (Duke)
The pieces keep changing, but Alabama coach Nick Saban keeps winning. This might even be Saban’s best team, and it’s with a freshman at quarterback. The Crimson Tide even avoided its annual SEC loss.
The way voting goes, a pair of Pac-12 coaches, Mike MacIntyre (Colorado) and Clay Helton (USC), will win more awards than Saban, but he deserves to be recognized for his work with the Tide this season.
In the ACC, Justin Fuente pulled Virginia Tech out of a 7-6/8-5 rut and back to the top of the Coastal Division for the first time since 2011.
Inside the state, Duke might finish 4-8, but David Cutcliffe has done unbelievable work in a transition season long on injuries and short on veteran talent.
Game of the year
National and ACC: Clemson 42, Louisville 36 (Oct. 1)
Local: UNC 37, Florida State 35 (Oct. 1)
The only time Clemson looked like Clemson, or at least the version we expected, was on Oct. 1 in primetime against the Cardinals.
Deshaun Watson threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns, and Wayne Gallman ran for 110 yards. Still, it took a fourth-down stop with 33 seconds left on their own 3-yard line, for the Tigers to pull out the dramatic win.
Alabama, coming back from a 24-3 hole at Ole Miss on Sept. 17 for a 48-43 win, and Penn State’s 24-21 “white out” upset of Ohio State deserve honorable mention.
Locally, UNC played two incredible games, in consecutive weeks, but the Tar Heels’ 37-35 win at Florida State — on the same day as the Clemson-Louisville game — was one to remember.
UNC led 21-0 early and didn’t trail until Florida State went ahead 35-34 with 23 seconds left. But the Heels were able to give Nick Weiler a chance to win the game on the last play with a 54-yard field goal, and he delivered in the clutch.
UNC’s 37-36 comeback win over Pitt (in Chapel Hill the week before the FSU upset) and Clemson’s 24-17 overtime win over N.C. State on Oct. 15 were also games of note..