It’s business as usual for the ACC Coastal Division. Every season seems to come down to the last couple weeks as we wait for one team to emerge from the pack. Some call it a mediocre division, some say it’s a balanced and competitive division. Last season Duke was the team to emerge from that jumbled mess. By defeating North Carolina in dramatic fashion in the last game of the regular season, Duke earned the right to play in the ACC Championship Game. Oddly enough, as close as the division race is every season, Duke became the first team not named Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech to finish in first place since the league expanded to 12 teams and 2 divisions in 2005.
This season figures to be no different. Almost every “expert” has a different opinion on how the Coastal Division will shake out. Will Coach Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils continue their momentum and repeat as division champs? Will Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech reclaim their position at the top of the standings? Will Miami finally emerge from the pack with the dark cloud of NCAA investigation behind them? Will North Carolina make use of their talented roster and continue their solid play seen in the second half of last season? Will Pittsburgh crash the party in their second season the ACC? Will Virginia….um, shock the world?
These questions will answer themselves as the season plays out, but lets take a look at each team to see what the Blue Devils will be up against as they attempt to defend their title and get another chance at an ACC Championship in Charlotte.
Duke (Last season: 10-4 (6-2 ACC))
Key games: Sept. 27 at Miami, Nov. 1 at Pittsburgh, Nov. 20 vs. North Carolina
The Blue Devils are already facing adversity and the season hasn’t even kicked off. Two All-ACC players, TE Braxton Deaver and LB Kelby Brown, have already been ruled out for the season after suffering ACL injuries in practice. Duke will have to find a way to replace their production, along with that of hybrid QB Brandon Connette and RB Jela Duncan. Duke does bring back one of the few starting quarterbacks in the ACC in Anthony Boone and one of the most explosive players in the country in WR Jamison Crowder. They also bring back an athletic and experienced, but still young, secondary. After last years 10 win, Coastal Division championship season, it will be interesting to see how Duke handles being the hunted instead of the hunters. Duke’s depth and focus will be tested from the opening kickoff of week 1. See our offensive, defensive, and special teams previews for a more in depth look at the 2014 Blue Devils.
Georgia Tech (Last season: 7-6 (5-3 ACC))
Key games: Sept. 20 at Virginia Tech, Oct. 18 at UNC, Oct. 25 at Pittsburgh
It may be now or never for Paul Johnson in Atlanta. While the team has finished consistently near the top of the Coastal during Johnson’s tenure, 2013 was anything but consistent. Leaving many around the program wondering if Georgia Tech may have reached their ceiling with Johnson as head coach. The Yellow Jackets will have to replace more than 2000 rushing yards after the departures of QB Vad Lee and RBs David Sims and Robert Godhigh. The triple option offense will continue to be difficult to stop, but the real questions for for Georgia Tech come on defense where they return only four starters.
Miami (Last season: 9-4 (5-3 ACC))
Key games: Sept. 1 at Louisville, Sept. 27 vs. Duke, Oct. 23 at Virginia Tech)
The Hurricanes will have to replace quarterback Stephen Morris, but they do return star running back Duke Johnson. Johnson is one of the best running backs in the country and will have to stay healthy this season as he should be the focal point of the offense. Miami struggled on defense last season, but do return seven starters and with improved depth they will look to take a step forward this season. Coach Al Golden has done a great job bringing in talent and rebuilding the program. They have increased their win total in each of the last three seasons. If they do that again this year they will have a great chance to win the Coastal Division.
North Carolina (Last season: 7-6 (4-4 ACC))
Key games: Oct. 4 vs Virginia Tech, Nov. 1 at Miami, Nov. 20 at Duke
North Carolina returns a decent amount of production from last year’s team that finished the season 6-1. The Tar Heels have some questions to answer about their offensive line, as well as depth on the defensive line. They do return QB Marquise Williams, who is currently in a battle with RS-freshman QB Mitch Trubisky, and some talented skill position players on offense, including WR Ryan Switzer, who led the nation in punt returns for touchdowns last season. This is a very young team who would like to get off to a hotter start than last year. North Carolina has a manageable schedule and enough talent on the roster to contend for the Coastal Division title.
Pittsburgh (Last season: 7-6 (3-5 ACC))
Key games: Nov. 1 vs. Duke, Nov. 15 at UNC, Nov. 22 vs. Syracuse
The Panthers enter their second season in the ACC having to replace QB Tom Savage and star DT Aaron Donald, but Pitt is looking to improve upon their 3-5 record in the ACC last season. They will need to find someone to step up in the young secondary, as well as hope the offensive line gels to help new QB Chad Voytik. They still have WR Tyler Boyd who topped the 1000 yard mark and caught 7 touchdown passes as a true freshman last season. A not-too-difficult schedule should allow the Panthers to qualify for a bowl for the third consecutive season under Coach Paul Chryst and, if things line up right, contend for the Coastal Division crown.
Virginia (Last season: 2-10 (0-8 ACC))
Key games: Sept. 15 vs. Louisville, Oct. 4 vs. Pittsburgh, Oct. 25 vs. North Carolina
This is Mike London’s fifth season as head coach at Virginia and is starting to feel a little heat. The Cavaliers have been consistently bringing in talent over the last few years, but have won just 6 games total over the last two seasons and had losing records in 3 of London’s 4 seasons with the team. The potential has yet to turn into production. The Cavaliers return 17 starters from last year’s team, but will have to see some improvement on offense. Virginia projects to be better in 2014, but so do most other teams in the Coastal. The Cavaliers have a difficult schedule this season. The quest for more victories will not get any easier this year.
Virginia Tech (Last season: 8-5 (5-3 ACC))
Key games: Oct. 4 at UNC, Oct. 23 vs. Miami, Nov. 15 at Duke
The Hokies had a disappointing season by Frank Beamer’s standards capped off by a blowout in the Sun Bowl against UCLA. The defense figures to be solid once again. All of the questions about Tech being able to return to prominence in the Coastal lead back to finding some sort of offensive identity. Virginia Tech will have a new QB in 2014 after Logan Thomas has moved on to the NFL, but they will need more than a better performance from the QB. The running game needs to improve and finding a playmaker on the outside would go a long way in helping the Hokies get back on top.
Injuries, surprise performances and good fortune can alter every team’s course through the season, but as things stand today here is how I see the Coastal Division shaking out:
Duke 5-3 (9-3 overall)
Miami 5-3 (9-3 overall)
Virginia Tech 5-3 (9-3 overall)
North Carolina 4-4 (6-6 overall)
Pitt 4-4 (7-5 overall)
Georgia Tech 4-4 (7-5 overall)
Virginia 1-7 (4-8 overall)
As you can see the Coastal Division race is anyone’s for the taking. There really isn’t that much separation between any of the teams. It has came down to tiebreakers before and 2014 could see that once again.
What are your thoughts and predictions on the upcoming football season? Will the Blue Devils successfully defend their Coastal Division crown?