Someone is going to win the ACC Coastal Division this season. That much we know.
But when it comes to figuring out who that someone will be, well, that’s where things get tricky.
Let’s start with perhaps the most predictable piece of the puzzle: Virginia’s chances of winning the division are slim.
The Cavaliers have too many unknowns on offense, and a brutal non-conference schedule that features UCLA, Notre Dame, and Boise State before we even hit October may take a lot out of Mike London’s team before ACC play begins.
One team down, six to go.
Unfortunately, the rest of this puzzle is not as easy to predict. There really isn’t a whole lot that separates the remaining six teams. All have strengths, but all have obvious flaws that could send them heading in the wrong direction in a hurry.
Georgia Tech enters the season as the defending Coastal Division champion, and having Justin Thomas under center should give the Yellow Jackets a chance to win it again. But with the bulk of the backfield gone from last season, and the usual concerns on defense present, they aren’t a lock.
Virginia Tech certainly has the defensive talent to compete for the title, with All-American cornerback Kendall Fuller leading the way. The offense? Well, it hasn’t exactly impressed under third-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
Then there’s Duke, which gets the luxury of not having to play Clemson, Florida State, or Louisville. The secondary should be scary good, but can Thomas Sirk offer the same type of production that Anthony Boone did at quarterback?
North Carolina should be fine on offense, and will be looking to revitalize its defense with former Auburn coach Gene Chizik running the show. The defense was really bad last season, though. Expecting Chizik to turn it around in one year may be asking too much.
Pittsburgh has a bright future with defensive genius Pat Narduzzi at the helm, and with playmakers James Conner and Tyler Boyd fueling the offense, there’s reason for excitement. But will a lack of playmakers on defense be the Panthers’ undoing?
Now we’ve come to Miami, where Al Golden gets one final chance to save his job. Talent has never been the issue with the Hurricanes, but Miami has yet to become an elite team with Golden calling the shots.
So, the strengths and weaknesses for each team are clear.
The question is, how do we differentiate the contenders from the pretenders?
Given this division’s recent track record, it’s nearly impossible. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech make the most sense on paper, but as we’ve learned over the years, predicting this division using the “on paper” effect is pointless.
Duke and Pitt may not be getting the credit they deserve, and to call them true underdogs in this division would be silly.
Miami and North Carolina are stocked with talent, and although they’ve both been disappointing in recent years, ruling out teams with that type of talent is hard to do.
If you’re feeling confused right now, then you’re starting to understand the situation here.
The ACC Coastal Division has a lot of good teams. Even with the Cavaliers seemingly destined to land at the bottom of the division, they aren’t a bad team. The problem is that it’s hard to identify one truly great team. In the Atlantic Division, it’s much easier to label teams like Clemson and Florida State as great.
Perhaps someone in the Coastal will step up and claim that label. Until then, it’s best to just sit back and enjoy all the twists and turns that will come with watching this division this season.
For now, I’ll take Virginia Tech.
But ask me five minutes from now, and I’ll probably have a different answer.