There wasn’t much of a debate at ACC media days about who the two best teams in the conference are. That title still belongs to Clemson and Florida State. And why not?
Those two schools have combined to win the last five ACC Championships.
In terms of potential sleepers, only one school really came to mind — Louisville. These three teams have one thing in common. They all reside in the Atlantic division, which means they cannot meet in the ACC Championship Game.
The ACC has done a terrific job of improving its conference over the last five years. ACC schools played in two of the last three National title games, which is a feat matched only by the SEC.
But the ACC needs competitive balance between its two divisions. The Coastal division hasn’t won the conference title since 2010. North Carolina coach Larry Fedora doesn’t believe that will last too long.
“I can tell you this,” Fedora said according to the Courier-Journal. “With the new coaches that have come into the Coastal, you look at the head football coaches in this league, you look at what’s happening in our league in the last three, four years, I mean, this is a hell of a division, it really is.
“From top to bottom, there’s a lot of strength. The new coaches that are coming in are only going to make it stronger.”
The ACC sure hopes so. It would go a long way to helping the conference in the divisions were more balanced.
These three new coaches could help make that a reality.
Mark Richt, Miami
The biggest head coach “free agent” of the offseason, Richt immediately brings respectability back to Miami. The Hurricanes had lost their way under Al Golden, who was fired midseason.
Richt has a reputation for not being able to win the big game, and Georgia’s championship drought had grown too large to justify continuing to keep him, but without a doubt, Richt is a molder of men. He also has two SEC Championships and appeared in the SEC Championship Game six times.
Overall, he went 145-51 at Georgia, which is a record a lot of schools would like to have. If Richt and quarterback Brad Kaaya get on the same page, don’t be surprised if Miami wins the Coastal division.
Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech
Fuente has the tall task of replacing a legend, Frank Beamer, a man who was very much the face of Virginia Tech football. But the change could be good for the Hokies.
“Beamerball” was all about winning ugly with superior defensive and special teams play. In recent years, though, the offense struggled because Virginia Tech couldn’t develop a quarterback. As Richt realized last season, it’s hard to win without a strong quarterback in today’s era of football.
With Fuente, his M.O. is quarterback development. Two current NFL quarterbacks, Andy Dalton and 2016 first-rouner Paxton Lynch, played under Fuente in the college ranks. If the new Virginia Tech coach can get some defensive help from his assistants, the Hokies could be dangerous in a couple years. Fuente is going to have that offense improved very shortly.
Bronco Mendenhall, Virginia
Mendenhall isn’t as well known as the other two, but he has 11 years of head coaching experience. The 50-year-old never posted a losing record while coach at BYU from 2005-2015, and during that time, he captured double digit victories five times. Virginia hasn’t won 10 games since 1989.
Defense is what Mendenhall will bring to the table for the Cavaliers. In the entire country, BYU was ranked 36th in yards allowed and 41st in points allowed last season. Virginia was 81st in yards allowed and 96th in points allowed. In the ACC, the Cavaliers were 12th and last in those two categories, respectively.