The ACC Coastal was a mess in 2012. The first two teams in line for the division’s ACC championship game berth were ineligible North Carolina, and a Miami team that sacrificed its eligibility to the NCAA. That left .500 Georgia Tech, which wouldn’t you know, nearly pulled off a stunning upset of Florida State.
Coastal teams have lost the last two ACC titles after dominating the championship game from 2007 through 2010. The Atlantic’s Florida State and Clemson are again the expected front runners, but the Coastal has teams that can put up a fight. Miami, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech should all be improved from a season ago, and North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora has a knack for overachieving.
Duke, Virginia and Pittsburgh are all wild cards. None are likely to contend for the division, but any of the three can be foils to the Coastal’s top teams.
Duke Blue Devils
6-7, 3-5 ACC; Lost Belk Bowl
David Cutcliffe led Duke to its first postseason in over 15 years. The Blue Devils nearly capitalized on their opportunity, but let it slip away in the final stretch. Cincinnati’s 21-point, fourth quarter deluge served as microcosm for Duke’s season: surprisingly strong start, soured by a bad finish when it dropped six of its final seven.
Gone is quarterback Sean Renfree, the latest standout Cutcliffe protege. Replacing his production is a concern, though Cutcliffe’s track record suggests Anthony Boone (or one of the other contenders) will adjust. Defense is the bigger concern. Duke surrendered a staggering 48.1 points per game in losses.
What Constitutes A Successful Season?
The Blue Devils face a four-game stretch midway through the season, which should make-or-break their bowl candidacy. Duke hosts Georgia Tech, Pitt, Troy and Navy. All four are winnable games. After opening with North Carolina Central and Memphis, sweeping the set would land Duke back in a bowl with half-a-season to play.
Bowl bids are the benchmark for success at Duke, but Cutcliffe’s teams are capable of just a little more. In both 2009 and 2012, strong starters were erased with dismal finishes. It’s a phenomenon that plagues many historically downtrodden programs, but overcoming it this year could produce a seven-win regular season and ensure the program’s first above-.500 finish since 1995. Eight wins isn’t entirely inconceivable, though it’s a very, very long shot. Still, avoiding Clemson and Florida State out-of-division helps tremendously. Duke saw both last year.
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
7-7, 5-3 ACC; Won Sun Bowl
Georgia Tech had to petition its way into the 2012 Sun Bowl, but it’s a good thing it did. After losing two straight, including an ACC championship game the Jackets defaulted their way into, the postseason pasting Tech laid on the USC Trojans serves as a springboard into a potentially great 2013.
Georgia Tech has the talent to compete for another division crown. Running back David Sims could be primed to break out as Tech’s next great rusher, and linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu is one of the ACC’s top defensive talents. Vad Lee will take over as quarterback of Paul Johnson’s offense.
What constitutes a winning season?
When BYU came to Atlanta and waylaid the Jackets, 41-17, things were looking grim not just for the 2012 Georgia Tech football squad but also Paul Johnson. However, the team recovered nicely. Barring a lopsided loss to a Georgia team that came a few yards shy of playing for the national championship, Tech’s home stretch was encouraging: double-digit-point, road wins over Maryland and division winner North Carolina; taking Florida State to the brink in the ACC championship; holding USC to seven points in the bowl game.
Tech could very well be 4-0 when it travels to Miami on Oct. 5. Preceding that date is a Thursday night, home tilt against Virginia Tech. Those two games are crucial for the Jackets to make a divisional push. Eight wins are very much attainable for this team. Nine are certainly within reach.
7-5, 5-3 ACC; No bowl
For the second time in as many seasons, the Miami athletic department declined a bowl with the hope of placating the NCAA. College sports’ governing body has dragged its feet on the Miami investigation at best, and bungled it to an unsalvageable degree at worst. Whichever it might be, the Hurricanes should be allowed to return to the postseason.
Stephen Morris, Duke Johnson and Phillip Dorsett give the Hurricane offense a nice triumvirate of skill position players, and veteran offensive lineman Seantrel Henderson anchors a stout offensive line. Miami will score points in bunches. Should the defense get up to speed quickly, this is a very dangerous team — one capable of making a run at the conference championship.
What constitutes a winning season?
Miami has never played in the ACC championship game. This could be the team to end that streak. Winning the Coastal Division might be the basement measure for a successful campaign in Golden’s third as head coach. The talent is there, and the schedule sends both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech to SunLife Stadium.
The non-conference slate features Florida, but is still more manageable than the road trip to the Big 12 champion Kansas State Wildcats and virtual road trip to meet national runner-up Notre Dame last year’s schedule called for. Nine or 10 regular season wins, a berth to the ACC championship game and at least a split against in-state rivals Florida and Florida State would make 2013 a resounding success for The U.
North Carolina Tar Heels
8-4, 5-3 ACC; No bowl
UNC fulfilled a one-year, NCAA-mandated bowl ban that also kept the Tar Heels out of the ACC championship game. The Tar Heels adapted well to Larry Fedora’s style, though are forced to replace Giovani Bernard. That shifts the spotlight onto Bryn Renner. Can the quarterback senior quarterback build on what was an underrated 2012?
More importantly, will a season adjusting to the uptempo style Fedora prefers on offense translate to the defense? The common theme in every Heel loss was ineffectual defensive play. UNC surrendered 28, 39, 33 and 68 in four losses — and the low of 28 was to a Wake Forest offense that ranked dead last in the ACC in points per game last year.
What constitutes a winning season?
Larry Fedora is an excellent coach, and he inherited a bevy of talent from Butch Jones’ recruiting. UNC also plays arguably the nastiest conference slate, visiting divisional foes Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Pitt. The Heels also travel to rival NC State, which has won five of the series’ last six. Week 1 features a date against 11-win South Carolina. Repeating last year’s eight-win total and again contending for the ACC Coastal would have to be considered a tremendous success.
6-7, 3-4 Big East; Lost BBVA Compass Bowl
The Paul Chryst era got off to a rocky start, when his Panthers dropped the 2012 season opener to FCS Youngstown State. That set the tone for a roller coaster season that included highs of a blowout wins over Virginia Tech and Big East co-champion Rutgers, and the lows of losses to Connecticut and a heartbreaking near-miss at Notre Dame. Yet another trip to Birmingham for the postseason capped an altogether underwhelming end of Pitt’s Big East era.
How Pittsburgh fits into its new league will be revealed early. The schedule is front-loaded with conference games. Four of the Panthers’ first five, including the ACC’s marquee Labor Day game, are against league competition.
What constitutes a successful season?
Pitt’s schedule is wonky. The aforementioned four conference games to start the season make a strong initial month imperative to the Panthers’ bowl aspirations. However, Pitt also sees many of the better conference foes at home with Florida State, Miami and North Carolina all visiting Heinz Field. Snatching away at least one of these is crucial, because a road docket of Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Duke is challenging.
The Panthers would need a lot to break in their favor in order to win eight. Seven is more realistic, though simply making the postseason in its first ACC campaign is a success for Pitt.
4-8, 2-6 ACC; No bowl
An upset of No. 12 ranked Georgia Tech and a four-game win streak that included road wins over Miami and Florida State highlighted Virginia’s strong 2011. However, the Cavaliers were smacked down by Virginia Tech and lost the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. Their conclusion to 2011 is a testament to how important momentum can be between seasons. Virginia began a six-game losing streak, midway through the season. Three of those losses were at home and by single digits; talk about missed opportunity.
That, combined with major quarterbacking issues were largely responsible for Virginia’s dip in 2012. Both Alabama transfer Philip Sims and Michael Rocco are gone after tag-teaming the job last season. Finding a capable game manager to operate alongside a talented backfield will dictate the Cavaliers’ season.
What Constitutes A Winning Season?
Virginia’s non-conference schedule features three teams that won bowl games last year: Oregon, Ball State and BYU. The good news is that all three come to Charlottesville. Snagging two from that trio of contests is key to putting UVa. on track for a bowl game. And no doubt about it, a bowl is the measure for a successful season at Virginia in Mike London’s fourth year. With a strong 2013 recruiting class, and even stronger crop verbally committed for 2014, six regular season wins should set the foundation for better things to come with the influx of talent.
Virginia Tech Hokies
7-6, 4-4 ACC; Won Russell Athletic Bowl
Last year was a startling deviation from the status quo. Perennial ACC heavyweight Virginia Tech found itself needing to win its final regular season game just to make a bowl. While routing rival Virginia and beating a 10-win Rutgers team in the Russell Athletic Bowl might have built some momentum, the Hokies are on tenuous ground to begin 2013.
The offensive questions that persisted throughout 2012 were exacerbated in the spring game. A potentially ego-deflating Week 1 date with defending national champion Alabama looms. This has to be an anxious offense for all involved in the program.
Still, Logan Thomas has proven he can be effective. The move to a more traditional, Pro Set offense under Scot Loeffler should benefit Thomas. The defense should return to the level of play we’ve grown accustomed under Bud Foster.
What Constitutes A Winning Season?
Frank Beamer-coached teams are accustomed to nothing less than competing for ACC Coastal and league crowns. There are flaws in the 2013 Hokies, but enough strengths that they should be closer to the program’s typical form than they are to last year’s middling performance. Nine wins set a baseline number for a winning season; running the table after the Alabama isn’t out of the question, particularly because the Hokies avoid Florida State and Clemson.