The ACC Coastal division was originally expected to be the stronger of the two divisions as Miami, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina were among the strongest programs in the country. For various reasons each of those storied programs have declined in recent years while Clemson has reached heights never before reached by its program and FSU has started to reclaim its position among the elite programs in college football. The Coastal programs have recently been able to attract better Head Coaching candidates which should also help to bolster the division.
Top Draft Prospects
1: Jordan Whitehead, Pittsburgh
2: Quin Blanding, Virginia
3: Brandon Facyson, Virginia Tech
4: Shaq Quarterman, Miami
5: Brian O’Neill, Pittsburgh
Order Of FInish
1: Miami Mark Richt and Miami are in good shape mostly because the rest of their division is in worse shape. Had Brad Kaaya returned Miami would have likely started the season ranked higher than they have in a decade. With an inexperienced quarterback the team will need to rely on the 7 returning offensive starters. Mark Walton had a great year as the Hurricanes feature back last season putting up 15 touchdowns and over 100 total yards per game. Ahmmon Richards and Christopher Herndon will give new quarterback Malik Rosier a couple of experienced targets to throw to while an offensive line led by center Nick Linder returns 4 starters. Defensively the Hurricanes are led by outstanding linebacker Shaq Quarterman. Interestingly the team returns all 7 front seven starters this season and only a single defensive back. The continuity should be evident early and a week 3 matchup with Florida State will really tell us how good this defense can be. Based on their schedule Miami seems like the best bet to win the Coastal and will probably finish with 10 or 11 regular season wins.
2: Virginia Tech The problem for the Hokies this year is that they appear set to start a freshman at quarterback. Maybe he is the best fit for Brad Fuentes’ offense but will he be the best fit on the road against ACC rivals? Time will tell. Fortunately the offensive line returns 4 starters and Travon McMillian looks to be, at the very least, competent as a running back. Cam Phillips is the only true playmaker for the Hokies offense. Hopefully Fuentes’ will be creative enough to keep teams from taking him out of the Hokies game plan. Defensively I would expect the Hokies to be very solid against the pass. The team has several legitimate early round draft prospects in the secondary and the veteran linebacking corps returns intact. The defensive line might present a problem against teams with a good ground game, however, so it will be hard for Tech to play field position. Clemson and Miami are both better teams than Virginia Tech and should win. Georgia Tech and Pitt are also concerning. I expect the Hokies to win 1 of the latter two games and finish around 9 wins for the season.
3: Pittsburgh The addition of Max Browne could be huge for Pitt. If they weren’t returning only 10 total starters this would look like a big year for the Panthers. Browne will have a veteran receiving corps to work with and should have enough depth to challenge any ACC defensive backfield. I would expect the Panthers to score a lot of points with a talented quarterback, experienced receiving corps, and a veteran offensive line with an anchor at left tackle like Brian O’Neil. Defensively the jury is still out on Pitt. Jordan Whitehead is a potential All American at free safety. The rest of the defense, however, is unproven. Dewayne Hendrix and Kamonte Carter are both slated to start on the defensive line, and both transferred from more elite programs for better playing time, but expecting them to play like the players they could not replace at their prior homes seems unrealistic. Pitt also has a ridiculously difficult out of conference schedule with Oklahoma State and Penn State back to back in September. Pitt will probably finish around 8 wins but will upset some better teams.
4: Georgia Tech The Yellow Jackets under Paul Johnson are the last of the Power 5 programs to abandon a traditional, and some would argue, obsolete, offensive system. Because of the system Tech’s running back will always have good stats and Dedrick Mills will be no exception. With 16 returning starters split evenly among the offense and defense, the Yellow Jackets should be relatively successful. Defensively the team has good experience throughout but is lacking in star power. Still, this team has the look of the kind of Paul Johnson teams that drive people crazy with execution and sneak into the Conference Championship race. I am unwilling to write them off due to the poor defensive play I expect in the ACC Coastal this year but their out of conference schedule should keep them from getting much better than 8 victories.
5: North Carolina Larry Fedora is in a tough spot. As the flagship university in a fertile recruiting state and region the Tar Heels should be a much better program. Deep issues with the integrity of the University, however, have made cleaning up the Athletic Department a difficult task. For his part Fedora has done a good job of running a cleaner program than his predecessors did, bt it’s not going to matter on the field. In short UNC does not have the Jimmys and the Joes to compete and losing Gene Chizik, who worked miracles with the defensie the last two years, as defensive coordinator will make those deficiencies all the more costly. I expect UNC to win 5 games and miss out on the post season.
6: Duke David Cutcliffe will win each cycle at Duke but he won’t win from year to year. That simply isn’t possible at Duke. Like North Carolina this year and Wake Forest most years Duke simply doesn’t have the players to compete, although Ben Humphreys is a fun player to watch and has a future playing on Sundays. 4 total wins.
7: Virginia I expect Bronco Mendenhall to win here soon, though 2017 seems too early. Quin Blanding will be a fun player for Cavalier fans to watch throughout the season and I think Virginia will see some improvement in their win total and in the final scores of their games. 2017 is really about making a leap in 2018 for teams like Duke and VIrginia, however, but I still see 3-4 wins.