As I did last year, I will be giving my overall predictions for both the Coastal and Atlantic divisions and then doing an awards preview for the whole ACC. Today, we start with the ACC Coastal Division (because it's better....duh).
Before I get started on my explanations, I do want to say that these standings reflect tiebreakers.
After winning the Coastal Division outright last season, Georgia Tech is in a good place to do it again with junior quarterback Justin Thomas returning at the helm. In his first year as a starter, Thomas led the Jackets in rushing with 1,086 yards and eight touchdowns. He also proved to be one of the better passers in the Paul Johnson regime, finishing with a 51.3 percent pass completion for 1,719 yards and 18-6 TD-INT ratio. On defense, the Jackets return eight starters and the presence of defensive tackle Jabari Hunt-Days who sat out last season due to academic ineligibility. After receiving high praise from Paul Johnson and New England Patriots guard Shaq Mason, he could prove to be a vital addition to a defensive line that already includes freshman All-American KeShun Freeman and Adam Gotsis. In my predictions, Tech secures victories over Duke, Florida State, UNC, Pittsburgh, Virginia and Virginia Tech, with losses to Clemson and Miami.
Finishing second under first-year head coach Pat Narduzzi will be the Pitt Panthers. If you remember back to my preview of the Panthers, you will see that I was very praising of the hire of Narduzzi and the offensive trio of quarterback Chad Voytik, running back James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd. That offensive trio alone will be able to carry the Panthers through the season. I do think the offense will look a little different this year with Jim Chaney as the new offensive coordinator in an effort to reduce the workload of James Conner (298 carries last year). With that, I also think the ball will be spread out through the air more. Pat Narduzzi certainly has a lot of work ahead of him with this defense, which was not very good last year, but I have faith that it could be a quick turnaround for the Panthers defense. In this situation, victories for Pitt include Duke, Louisville, Miami, UNC, Syracuse and Virginia, with losses coming against Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.
It's no secret that what success Virginia Tech has had recently was because of their defense. That shouldn't change at all this year, especially since they're returning Kendall Fuller and Luther Maddy. They're both very good players but in different aspects. Fuller is a fantastic cover corner. He doesn't have quite the size that his older brother Kyle had, but he did still have 15 pass break-ups last year in spite of only getting two interceptions. Maddy rejoins a very good defensive line after missing most of last year due to injury. His disruptiveness combined with the disruptiveness of Dadi Nicholas and Ken Ekanem (combined for 33.5 TFL and 19 sacks) could spell trouble for offenses this year. As for their own offense, well let's just say they need some help. Quarterback Michael Brewer showed promise at times, but also made some really bonehead mistakes at times. He'll need to avoid those mental mistakes. The Hokies also need to find a consistent running game. Perhaps that will happen with the return of a healthy Shai McKenzie. In my predictions, the Hokies' wins come against Boston College, UNC, NC State, Pitt and UVA, while their losses come against Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami.
North Carolina finally has their defensive coordinator in Gene Chizik, and now Larry Fedora just has to make sure that they can play some kind of defense. It doesn't really matter what kind, as long as it is better than last year's defense. There's really not much that's good that can be said about the defense. Chizik certainly has his work cut out for him. The offense is going to be awesome, though. By the end of the season, quarterback Marquise Williams could very well be in Heisman talks. Last season, he completed 63.1 percent of his passes for 3,073 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He also added another 989 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. If his passing numbers continue to improve, he'll definitely be a player to watch out for. Joining him in this dynamic offense is his favorite target: Ryan Switzer. Switzer, a junior, was a reliable target for Williams last season, catching 61 of the 86 passes thrown his way last season for 762 yards. In my predictions, UNC's wins come against Duke, Miami, UVA and Wake Forest, with losses coming against Georgia Tech, NC State, Pitt and Virginia Tech.
Miami is going to be a new-look team this year. In years past, there has been a heavy focus on Duke Johnson and the running game. This year, Johnson is gone, but sophomore quarterback Brad Kaaya is still there. Last season as a freshman, Kaaya completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 3,198 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Despite losing their three top pass-catchers (Philip Dorsett, Duke Johnson, Clive Walford) and their three most experienced offensive linemen (Shane McDermott, Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano), Kaaya could still certainly improve as a quarterback. The key for the Hurricanes will be to keep Kaaya upright while he passes. On defense, the Canes have a fantastic secondary, led by safety Deon Bush, that should easily be one of the best in the ACC and will be a massive help for a defense that lost its best defensive lineman in Anthony Chickillo. Wins for the Canes will come against Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech, with losses coming against Clemson, Florida State, UNC and Pittsburgh.
Duke's offense is taking a huge hit this season. Gone from what was a pretty solid offense last year are quarterback Anthony Boone, wide receiver Jamison Crowder and offensive lineman Laken Tomlinson. Just losing those three guys makes this Duke offense a lot worse. This will be the ultimate test for David Cutcliffe at Duke. Say what you want about Cutcliffe, but the man is a good coach. He has brought Duke to a respectable level of football. Now we get to find out if he can stay at that level despite losing a large portion of his offense. On defense, the strength lies with the secondary of Duke's 4-2-5 defense. The leader there is safety DeVon Edwards. He led the Blue Devils in tackles last year with 105. He also had 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, an interception and five forced fumbles. In my predictions, wins for Duke come against Boston College, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, and losses come against Georgia Tech, Miami, UNC and Pitt.
I don't ever really know what to say about Virginia. Every year, it seems like they bring in some sort of major talent that just goes on to disappoint. It's like clockwork. On offense, UVA will be trying to figure out things in the passing and rushing games, but one thing they do have figured out for the most part is the offensive line. The offensive line returns a lot of experience, despite losing the most experienced in right guard Conner Davis. They also did a decent job of opening up holes and keeping the quarterback on his feet (even if they didn't know who it was). On defense, the Cavaliers actually weren't terrible. They lost a lot, though. The shining glimmer of hope for the defense is free safety Quin Blanding. As a freshman last season, Blanding was phenomenal. He finished the season with 91.5 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack and three interceptions. As good as he was, the Cavaliers have to hope Blanding doesn't need to have 90+ tackles again this season, because that means running backs are getting through the front seven. In my predictions, UVA's lone win comes against Syracuse, while they have losses to Duke, Georgia Tech, Louisville, Miami, UNC, Pitt and Virginia Tech.
How do you think the Coastal division will turn out?