ACC: Coastal Division

ACC Live: Week 6 (2 ET)

October, 1, 2014
Oct 1
10:20
AM ET
On this week's ACC Live chat Andrea Adelson, Matt Fortuna, David Hale and Jared Shanker discuss the standard of winning at Florida State, the latest from the crazy Coastal Division and preview this weekend's slate. They also will take your questions live on screen!
Back in July, the media pundits took a crack at predicting the ACC Coastal Division.

Miami was picked to finish No. 1. Virginia was picked to finish No. 7. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose team was selected second, described the randomness we all expected to see out of the division when he said:
"If you look at the Coastal Division, you could really do a real serious one through seven and then for fun, right on the other piece of paper, flip it, make seven to one and go right back down. It would be interesting to see which one was the most accurate."

Time for some fun.

[+] EnlargeDaquan Romero
Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SportsWith its defensive play stellar, Virginia appears to be a top contender for the ACC Coastal crown.
Now that each team in the Coastal division has played a conference game, let us take a look at the odds each one has of winning the ACC based on the ESPN Football Power Index calculations. Keep in mind Florida State remains the runaway favorite to win the league after surviving yet another scare at NC State this past Saturday.

It is pretty clear the Noles are carrying the flag for the entire ACC, a league that suffered a little more embarrassment over the weekend when Pitt lost to Akron and Boston College lost to Colorado State. Florida State has not looked unstoppable, but thankfully for the league, the Noles remain in the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion.

To make an undefeated run and secure their spot in the final four, they will have to win the ACC championship game. Who are the two most likely teams take them down in Charlotte?

None other than Virginia and Pitt, the two teams picked to finish last in the Coastal. As of Monday morning, Pitt's chances of winning the ACC were 3.7 percent, based on 10,000 simulations of the rest of the season. The Hoos -- the only team that failed to receive a first-place vote to win the Coastal -- have been given a 2.8 percent chance to win the ACC.

Looks like Cutcliffe may have been on to something.

We will have a chance to see just how well Virginia matches up with Florida State when the two play in the regular season Nov. 8 in Tallahassee. But the Hoos will not be penciled in as an automatic W for anyone, not based on the way their defense has played. They are relentless, an opportunistic group that has 19 sacks, 39 tackles for loss and 18 takeaways in five games.

Based on the defense alone, Virginia should be in each of its Coastal games this season. That includes Virginia Tech, which has won 10 straight and 14 of the past 15 in the series. But that is getting way ahead. First, the Hoos are in one of three critical Coastal showdowns this weekend against Pitt. Miami-Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech-North Carolina are the others.

Would it surprise you to know that nobody is favored by more than five in any of these games? Miami and Virginia Tech are each one point favorites; Virginia is the biggest favorite, with the five-point line over the Panthers. The line makes perfect sense based on what we have seen out of Pitt the past two weeks.

Plus, Virginia has one big advantage against Pitt. Its run defense is giving up less than 100 yards a game; Pitt’s strength is its run game behind James Conner. As Akron showed this past weekend, neutralizing Conner means relying on quarterback Chad Voytik to be a difference maker. Voytik, as we have seen, has been unable to deliver the past two weeks late in games.

It is obviously way too early to start crowning any Coastal champs. It may be too early to crown anybody until the final week of the regular season. Nothing can be counted on, not even these percentages.

Expect them to fluctuate wildly from week to week based on the inevitable upsets and unpredictability that come with Coastal life.

But headed into a big weekend for the division, it seems pretty safe to say there is no way Virginia should be overlooked the way it was in July.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 5

September, 28, 2014
Sep 28
12:18
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Let's take a look at what we learned in the ACC for Week 5:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeNC State's Jacoby Brissett dazzled again this week, but Florida State rallied to stay undefeated.
1. Survival State. Florida State is not as good as it was a season ago. That much seems pretty clear. But despite some of their flaws, the Seminoles have found ways to win in consecutive weeks, keeping themselves in College Football Playoff contention. A week after surviving Clemson in overtime, No. 1 Florida State had to overcome a 24-7 first quarter deficit at NC State -- a house of horrors that has haunted the program going for a decade. Given the horrible start and the history, Florida State looked ready to go down. But the Seminoles scored on three straight possessions between the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth to come away with the 56-41 win. Florida State ended up outscoring the Wolfpack 49-17 after that dreadful opening period. Good teams are often tested during the season. But Florida State has now been tested in all three of its FBS games. Wake Forest and Syracuse are ahead before a big showdown against No. 8 Notre Dame on Oct. 18. The Seminoles have plenty of work to do before then.

2. Do not count out Miami. A week ago, Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio was the most wanted man in South Florida after the Canes looked completely out of it in a loss to Nebraska. Would you look at that defense a week later? Miami completely shut down Duke and its run game, holding the Blue Devils to 264 total yards and 2-of-16 on third down while forcing three turnovers. But maybe the best news of all in its 22-10 victory -- Miami made some exceptional tackles and that has to be encouraging moving forward. While critics might want to quickly dismiss the win because it came against a Duke team that feasted on weak competition to date, Miami deserves credit for bouncing back from a dreadful tackling day against the Huskers. Duke Johnson finally got to 100 yards rushing and Brad Kaaya keeps getting better. The rest of the Coastal is a mess, so why not Miami?

3. Jacoby Brissett is for real. We thought Brissett might be for real based on his first four games, but after his performance against Florida State, we know it now to be true. Brissett had some pretty terrific Houdini moments and ended up going 32-of-48 for 359 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 13 rushes for 38 yards. His presence in the offense makes NC State a radically different team. Just look at the difference in the games between these two teams over the span of a year. Last season, NC State trailed 35-0 after the first quarter. This season, Brissett had NC State on the verge of an upset. The Wolfpack have improved as the season has worn on -- having Brissett behind center is a big reason why.

4. Pitt, BC are not for real. On a day when the ACC kept its College Football Playoff hopes alive, the league took yet another double-whammy hit from its middle-of-the-pack teams. Pitt and Boston College lost to Group of 5 programs and it’s hard to gauge which home defeat was more stunning. Was it the Panthers, who showed no signs of life in a 21-10 loss to Akron? Or was it Boston College, blowing a fourth-quarter lead and losing 24-21 to Colorado State? Just two weeks ago, the Eagles pulled their own stunner, beating down USC in a performance that should have served notice. Instead, BC falls into the same trap Virginia Tech did, albeit a few weeks apart. Neither team could keep up the momentum it created after taking down a ranked team. As for Pitt, the nonconference schedule presented four winnable games. The Panthers only won two. They failed in just about every area against Akron, most notably rushing the ball. James Conner had his 100-yard streak snapped. If Pitt can’t run, it has little hope to win.

5. Mixed bag for young QBs. Clemson's Deshaun Watson got his first career start and wowed just about everybody, setting a school record with six touchdown passes in a 50-35 win over North Carolina. If only he had started against Georgia and Florida State. … Meanwhile, Kaaya keeps showing growth in the Miami offense, going 20-of-34 for 223 yards and two scores. These two look like future quarterback stars in the ACC. As for some of the others? Louisville fans clamored for Reggie Bonnafon the way Clemson fans wanted Watson. Bonnafon got his shot against Wake Forest with an injured Will Gardner on the sideline and showed some flashes, going 16-of-32 for 206 yards. But he also had two critical fumbles, including one in the end zone Wake Forest converted into a touchdown. The offensive line did him no favors, and his receivers also had several drops in the 20-10 win. Wake quarterback John Wolford continues to have a tough time, throwing three interceptions.

ACC morning links

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
8:00
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East Carolina has this way of, you know, beating teams in the ACC. And it has no shame in reminding the teams it has vanquished.

A billboard has popped up in Winterville, North Carolina, taking a shot at the North Carolina Tar Heels, after the Pirates demolished them for the second straight season.



This is reminiscent of what East Carolina did last year after beating NC State. The Pirates have room to brag considering their success recently. They also beat Virginia Tech this season.

By the way, if you're wondering what the #beneathwho is all about, it's a response to this quote from last week:



For North Carolina, there is absolutely nothing to brag about now. The loss was so ugly, it is being left on the cutting room floor. According to The Daily Tar Heel, linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said of the tape, "You know, we didn’t even watch it. Coach (Larry) Fedora left it up to the position coach to make that decision. Since we ran a little different scheme than we do normally, there’s no need to dwell on it, too.”

After stumbling early last season, North Carolina recovered to make a bowl game. But the looming stretch looks more challenging than anything the Tar Heels faced year, beginning Saturday at Clemson. As Fedora said, "The true test of a man is finding out who you are. Until you’re really tested, you don’t know. But when you are tested, the true man comes out. It’s who you are. You can’t hide it at that point. And why would you want to hide it?"

ACC morning links

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
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Virginia kicker Ian Frye went through quite a harrowing ordeal during the BYU game last weekend.

When the team started to walk to the locker room at halftime, Frye noticed his mother coming down a set of stairs toward him. She yelled to Frye that his dad, Mark, was having chest pains. Frye went into the locker room briefly before finding his dad, who was seated just outside the door having a hard time breathing. He spoke with his dad and the paramedics, before his parents urged him to go back to his team.

Mark Frye, 58, was transported to a local hospital after suffering a heart attack. Ian Frye was left to play the rest of the game, worrying about his dad. But that did not keep him from nailing a 46-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

"Just sitting there on the sideline was tough," Frye told local reporters Monday. "But I wanted to be there with my team, support them, and do what I needed to do. I was called out for a 46-yard field goal. That was probably one of my hardest kicks that I've ever had to do, just knowing about my dad and what he was going through and having to perform still for the team. I kicked it for him."

After the game ended, BYU police escorted Frye to the hospital to see his dad, who had undergone successful surgery. BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe visited in the hospital and brought Ian a meal. Ian Frye stayed overnight in Utah and returned to Charlottesville on Monday after a lengthy flight delay in Atlanta.

Mark Frye remains in a Provo hospital but is expected to recover. He has taken great pride in Ian's career, never missing a game. The 46-yard field goal Frye nailed was the first kick Mark Frye had ever missed his son attempt.

But he is not completely out of the loop. He was the first one to text Ian on Monday and let him know the ACC named him its Specialist of the Week after making all four field goal attempts in the game.

He is now 10-of-11 on field goal attempts this season.

Pretty amazing story.

In some other Virginia news, quarterback Greyson Lambert had a walking boot on Sunday and will be evaluated throughout the week. Matt Johns and David Watford will get increased reps at quarterback in case Lambert is not ready to go against Kent State this weekend. He is not the only ACC quarterback who is day-to-day.

Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is having his knee examined after he tweaked it against FIU. Coach Bobby Petrino told reporters Monday that it was too early to tell whether Gardner will be able to play against Wake Forest. If he can't, Reggie Bonnafon will be ready to go after missing last week following his father's death.

Now a quick look around the ACC:

ACC mailblog

September, 5, 2014
Sep 5
4:00
PM ET
So you want to talk Miami-Louisville ...

Ross Williams in Louisville, Ky., writes: Was Louisville's defense (secondary) that good or was Miami's QB just that bad?

Anthony in Savannah, Ga., writes: Canes fan here! I am a little upset with the play calling against UL. Last time I checked, if you have that many in the box, you aim to go over the top. It was there (as you could see with the few long shots). I like to think that I am more of a fan of the game more then anything. The offensive play calling and blocking for (Brad) Kaaya was atrocious. I remember counting nine or 10 players in the box and we are running into the heart of UL. People are saying that Kaaya shouldn't have started. I disagree. If he was better then the other QB's on the roster, then you go with what gets you the W. In this case, I believe that the coaches failed them. The offense wasted one of the few times the defense actually played defense. In your opinion, how could Kaaya have been more effectively used?

Andrea Adelson writes: Both questions are related, so I will answer both here. Anthony, I completely agree with your assessment. The coaches did let Kaaya down. The offensive line was overwhelmed and unprepared, and the play calls did nothing to put Kaaya or the Canes in position to succeed. When Al Golden named Kaaya the starter, he said, "He’s not our true freshman quarterback. He’s the University of Miami quarterback." Yet the coaching staff treated him like a freshman quarterback, taking zero chances in the pass game. There was no real attempt made at stretching the field with their fast and talented receivers. There was no attempt, even, at getting the running backs involved in the pass game out of the backfield to help neutralize the loaded box. A friend reminded me that Duke Johnson does know how to catch, though you'd never know it by watching Miami in the past year. When Johnson was a true freshman, he had 27 receptions. Last season, he had four. Against Louisville, he had one for 9 yards. Stacy Coley is one of the best young receivers in the league. He had three catches for 9 yards against the Cards. To Ross' point, I don't really think we saw enough out of the Louisville cornerbacks to say Louisville's secondary was that good. The front was the most impressive part of the D. Safety James Sample was as well, though he made a lot of his plays supporting the run. In all honesty, the Louisville secondary wasn't tested all that much. I wouldn't say Kaaya was bad. He got no help.


Mike D in Hamilton, Ontario writes: RE: Kaaya needs teammates to step up, too. Andrea, everyone's hacking on the offense for a bad outing in Louisville, which is justified (awful execution by the O-line and un-inventive play-calling) but where is the press about how well the defense played? I'm not saying that was old 'Canes D but that was a much improved unit. The offense would have lost to their own defense in that game. Let's give 'em some props.

Adelson: The Miami defense played better, yes. But I'm not ready to crown 'em just yet.


Gary in Queens, N.Y., writes: Hi, Andrea. Syracuse alum here. I was wondering how concerned you think I should be after the Orange's near-loss against FCS Villanova last Friday. Thanks for your great work on the blog.

Adelson: Thanks for reading, Gary! On a scale of 1-10, I would put the concern level at a 5. I would be moderately concerned as a Cuse fan. The reason not to panic is because Terrel Hunt missed a majority of the game after stupidly punching a player and getting ejected. Without him, the offensive game plan essentially became useless. The offensive line was not great, either, but several players were out with injury so the group should be better when Omari Palmer and Nick Robinson return. The reason to panic is the defense did not look all that special against an FCS team, Hunt or no Hunt. Defenders looked a step slow. As expected, the defensive line needs work, too.


Wayne in Tallahassee writes: This is just a quick question, (that hopefully makes it on the blog ). If the ACC is the bottom feeding conference and the Pac-12 is supposed to be one of, if not the best, why did UCLA -- one of the best teams in the Pac-12 -- struggle with one of the weakest in the ACC? Could it possibly be media hype? NO NEVER!

Adelson: Wayne, you must have known that the Pac-12 touches a nerve with me. I am tired of the Oregon/Pac-12 hype, quite honestly. Just about every time the Ducks play a physical team, they lose. (Side note: I am fascinated to see how the Oregon-Michigan State game on Saturday plays out for that very reason). I am not going to sit here and dish out blame on who is responsible for the hype/sensationalism, but I will say that UCLA did not impress me one bit. The Bruins played a physical team and clearly couldn't handle it. Were they overrated based on Brett Hundley and Myles Jack alone? Maybe. But beyond Stanford, Oregon and USC, what Pac-12 team has done anything lately? Washington State was the last team outside that trio to make a BCS game, in 2003. Dare I say it ... is the Pac-12 top heavy?? Just sayin ...


Robert Wolf in Amarillo, Texas., writes: You know Georgia Tech has been to 17 straight bowls. Can this be the year Tech could win it all? I am concerned because it can't seem to handle either Clemson or Virginia Tech! When it comes to consistency, Tech is one of the best.

Adelson writes: Win it all, as in the entire ACC? No, I don't think this will be Tech's year for that. Win the Coastal? I remain skeptical there, too, thought I'm not going to rule out the Jackets just yet. I think the defense has a long way to go before we can start talking about a division championship. Tech does consistently make bowl games, there is no doubt about that. But I do know there is a segment of the fan base that has grown restless with just making the postseason. Are fans content with being a consistent seven-to-eight win team? Or should more be expected on a yearly basis?
Miami and Virginia Tech now have their answers at starting quarterback, though they went different routes in making their decisions.

Both brought in transfers in the offseason to compete for the starting job. But only the Hokies went the transfer route, as they announced that Michael Brewer would take over for Logan Thomas when the season opens Saturday.

[+] EnlargeMichael Brewer
Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SportsMichael Brewer brings a measure of experience to the starting quarterback job for the Hokies.
Miami went the more unconventional route, announcing Sunday that true freshman Brad Kaaya had won the starting job over fifth-year senior Jake Heaps.

Ultimately, those decisions will have a major impact on each team's Coastal Division hopes.

The choice Miami made was slightly more surprising for a few reasons. First, Heaps has valuable game experience, having started at two stops before arriving at Miami in the summer. Second, Miami opens the season on the road at Louisville. Many thought Al Golden would tab Heaps based on these two facts alone.

But Kaaya has intrigued Miami from the moment he committed in 2013. The Canes were the first team to extend him a scholarship offer, and he stuck with them despite the distance (he is from California) and several in-state schools putting on the hard sell. Offensive coordinator James Coley told local reporters after practice Sunday that three months ago he never would have envisioned starting a true freshman on the road to open the season.

Then again, Coley also said Kaaya is "not your regular freshman."

Kaaya has drawn nothing but raves since arriving on campus, and he has drawn particular attention for his unflappable demeanor. Miami has been desperate for a standout at the position for 12 years and counting. His predecessor, Stephen Morris, was solid but never rose to the elite level that people have come to expect from anybody playing the position at Miami. Now Kaaya gets to put that pressure on his shoulders.

Brewer at least has more game experience than Kaaya, having played as a backup at Texas Tech the past two seasons. When he made his decision to transfer to Virginia Tech, many expected him to win the starting job. Mark Leal, who served as the backup to Thomas the past several seasons, struggled in the bowl game and during the spring, opening the door for Brewer.

Where Kaaya has an edge over Brewer, then, is in the talent around him. Miami has the best running back in the ACC in Duke Johnson, one of the deepest and most talented receiver groups in the league, solid tight ends and a good offensive line. Virginia Tech is expected to be better at running back, receiver and tight end as well as on the offensive line, but Miami is better at all four spots headed into the season.

Perhaps that gives Golden and Coley more confidence lining up a true freshman on the road. He has a supporting cast to truly support him. Ultimately, though, both programs and both head coaches will be judged on the quarterback decisions they made this weekend. The Coastal could depend on it.

Duke's bad luck continues

August, 18, 2014
Aug 18
4:50
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Just when you thought it was safe to believe Duke could win the Coastal Division again, the football gods have conspired against the Blue Devils.

Duke good in football?

Again?

Unacceptable!

Over the span of a week, Duke has lost starting tight end Braxton Deaver and starting middle linebacker Kelby Brown to torn ACLs. If they were the only two losses, that’d be enough. But going back to the end of last season, Duke has lost four key contributors from its record-breaking 2013 team.

Running back Jela Duncan is academically ineligible; backup quarterback Brandon Connette, who had 27 touchdowns passing and rushing a season ago, has transferred to Fresno State to be closer to his ailing mother.

So all told, Duke has lost players who had a hand in 34 of the team’s 54 total offensive touchdowns last season, plus its lone All-ACC linebacker in Brown, who had 114 tackles as the heart of the Duke D.

Given the latest setbacks, it is hard to peg Duke as a favorite in the Coastal now. A program like Florida State can lose a few starters and reload. A program like Duke is still working to build adequate depth across the board. The Blue Devils are certainly capable of winning the division, but their task just got significantly harder.

You know what that means: The Coastal Division just got even crazier. You thought that was impossible? Try picking a favorite from this motley crew.
  • Duke not only has holes to plug on offense and defense, it has to replace its two biggest leaders from a year ago in Brown and cornerback Ross Cockrell, who is now playing with the Buffalo Bills.
  • Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech have no starting quarterback.
  • The Tar Heels, Canes, Georgia Tech and Pitt have questions on defense that need to be resolved.

Yet you could make the case for all six teams to win the Coastal. Or maybe even finish in a wacky six-way tie where 40 tiebreakers must be used to determine who gets into the ACC championship game against preseason favorite Florida State.

Every team needs a little bit of luck on the way to a championship. Duke had some luck on its side last season. The Blue Devils had relatively good health and found ways to win -- four of their victories were by a touchdown or less.

Less than three weeks into camp, the Blue Devils do not seem as fortunate. David Cutcliffe has proven he knows how to get the most out of his players. But with the losses to date, does he have the players he needs to keep building on the foundation set last year?

The Coastal may hinge on that.

ACC mailblog

August, 15, 2014
Aug 15
3:00
PM ET
Step into my office ...

Richard in Raleigh writes: I beg you to put this in the mailbag. It involves the preseason predictions for UNC. Let me first state my bias against UNC so it is known. I'm a NC State grad and Miami fan. I hate Carolina, but I still think I'm right on this point. Most people have UNC ranked. Many project them to win the Coastal. Now I have to imagine some of this is based on projection of talent and belief in Larry Fedora and his system, but I have to imagine that a large part of it was based on their change in quarterback and improvement at the end of the year, starting 1-5 and finishing 6-1. It aggravated me as soon as the season ended and this talk started, but today I looked at a few more numbers and am shocked I haven't seen anyone bring it up. The teams UNC beat were a combined 44-44. The teams they lost to were a combined 55-24. They only had two road wins and only one was against an above .500 team (Pitt). The closest thing they have to a quality win are victories against 7-6 Pitt and BC and a bowl win against 9-4 Cincinnati in a stadium two hours from their campus. All of this would seem to suggest to me that rather than UNC improving at the end of the year, they just finally started playing teams they were capable of beating. I think what UNC showed at the end of the season is the same thing they showed at the beginning of the season. They are capable of beating bad teams. They are not capable of beating good teams. And all of that makes them remarkably average. Now you add to that no offensive or defensive line, an incredibly young group of players ... None of that points to improvement to me. Now UNC certainly has the talent on the roster to fix their holes and improve this season. I just see little to suggest that so far. So please tell me how all this is being overlooked.

Andrea Adelson writes: No need to beg, Richard. You make some good points. For the record, I do not have North Carolina winning the Coastal but I do have the Tar Heels No. 2. Why? A few reasons. First, to your concerns about who North Carolina beat last year. I think this team deserves credit for turning around the season after staring in such a massive hole. Were the opponents weaker in the latter part of the season? Yes. But other teams could have folded at 1-5 no matter the opponent. This team found a way to win and that should count for something. I did not use the momentum from last season in my projection, however. I based mine on the talent returning and the schedule this season, not last. North Carolina is extremely talented at the skill positions, and I think the offensive line will solidify itself early in the season. The Tar Heels have four winnable nonconference games, and they get Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech at home (though there are some toughies at Clemson, Miami and Duke). Plus, there is little to no separation between the teams in the Coastal. So regardless of what happened last season, North Carolina has as good a shot as any to win the division.


Mike D in Hamilton, Ontario, writes: Whenever you guys do write about Miami and their impact players Phillip Dorsett is rarely mentioned. Have people forgotten he was Stacy Coley (the speedy deep threat) before he got hurt? I don't think he gets nearly enough credit. If he's healthy, and Miami can find a serviceable QB, he and Coley will should put up some good numbers.

Adelson writes: I certainly have not forgotten Dorsett. In fact, I think it is a tight race for top receiving group in the ACC between Louisville and Miami. The Dorsett-Coley combination has a chance to be the best in the league. I look forward to watching them both this season.


Josh in Syracuse, N.Y., writes: Miami should definitely be ranked higher in your power rankings. While I understand the uncertainty at the quarterback position factored into their ranking, Miami will be one of the strongest, fastest and most talented teams in the conference even with a MEDIOCRE quarterback. You could say that Stephen Morris was a "mediocre" quarterback last year and they started 7-0, I mean he wasn't a Jameis Winston. Though this year the schedule is tougher, one can honestly argue that Miami has one of if not THE best WR corps in the conference. THE best running back in the conference, even after injury. They are also the deepest they have been on the defensive line in recent years and have one of the best LB's in the nation (Denzel Perryman) with a legitimate shutdown corner in Tracy Howard. Their O-line was pretty decent last year and returns key guys. I feel as though underestimating this team because of uncertainty at QB is a mistake because whoever it is will have a boatload of talent and speed to utilize. I don't think they necessarily need a "superstar" at QB to compete for an ACC championship. They just need someone who's "good enough" to distribute the ball effectively to the many weapons they have on offense. Thanks Andrea!

Adelson writes: The ranking was not only because of quarterback uncertainty. Neither you nor I know for certain this defense will develop the type of physicality and aggressiveness up front to change its fortunes. So Miami is deep up front. Are they bigger? Stronger? Will they push into the backfield? Perryman is terrific. So is Howard. But they need help around them. I applaud the move of Dallas Crawford to safety, an area in major need of an upgrade. But that defensive line still worries me, maybe moreso than quarterback.


Dusty in Hunstville, Ala., writes: Hi Andrea, I love the blog, but I have to ask...Syracuse above Georgia Tech in the power rankings? Did you happen to miss GT winning 56-0 last year? In a game where returning GT players Justin Thomas and Zach Laskey were the top two yardage gainers? And where Syracuse QB's couldn't muster a QBR above 8.8?

Adelson writes: Dusty, we arrived at the first power rankings after taking rankings from our four ACC reporters: myself, David Hale, Matt Fortuna and Jared Shanker, using a weighted point system to come up with the end result. In my ballot, I had Georgia Tech ahead of Syracuse. I cannot speak for my colleagues, but I think there is some genuine skepticism about the Jackets this season.


Greg in Annapolis, Md., writes: So I went through all those "best seasons" ever that were listed in all the blogs. How is Peter Boulware's 20 sack season, an NCAA record at the time, in 1996 not on the ACC list? Not only was it left off the list, but it should have been No. 1 for the best defensive season ever in the ACC. I love Deion Sanders and he was exciting, but 20 sacks in only 12 games, for a team that played for the national championship that year? This definitely blows away all the other guys on the ACC defensive list as well.

Adelson writes: Thanks, Greg. Shoutout to Peter Boulware for an outstanding season. Just to clarify: We did not rank the best individual defensive performances in ACC history. We merely listed the best single-season performance in school history for all 14 ACC schools. Jameis Winston took that honor for Florida State. Chris Low ranked the 10 best defensive seasons of all-time.
Earlier this week, I asked: Will Miami win the Coastal Division? Over 3,000 votes were cast, and the overwhelming majority say absolutely not.

Let's dig into the mailbag to see what you had to say.

Richard in Raleigh writes: You mentioned Miami had far too many concerns to overlook to be named the preseason Coastal favorites. Can this not also be said for the other 5 teams with a shot of winning the Coastal?

Andrea Adelson: Absolutely. But the Miami Hurricanes have a backbreaking schedule; and headed into the season, I am more confident in the quarterbacks for four of those teams (Duke Blue Devils, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels). As for the Virginia Tech Hokies, as long as their defense plays up to standards, the Hokies will always be in contention.




Ryan in Charlotte writes: Agree with Duke winning the Coastal. Duke's D-Line lost three, but I really don't think there will be a huge drop off in terms of production. Miami has an incompetent coaching staff, otherwise they should win it and [Frank] Beamer for not getting a real offensive coordinator prevents VT from being the favorite. Carolina every year is projected to win it and chokes consistently despite NFL talent. GT is also underrated, [Paul] Johnson has never finished lower than third in his time at GT. Pitt lost their QB and [Aaron] Donald, don't see them as being a dark horse. All of this coming from a die-hard Duke Fan.

Patrick Clark in Durham, North Carolina, writes: I'm quite surprised that you and I seem to be in the minority picking Duke to win the Coastal. Duke returns their top three tacklers, All-ACC WR Jamison Crowder, and are one of only three teams in the conference to return their starting QB in senior Anthony Boone. Throw in one of the easiest schedules in the conference and it seems to me, if you're able to put past history and stigmas aside, that Duke is the obvious choice to represent the Coastal Division and make it back to Charlotte. Are we crazy?

Adelson writes: Crazy like foxes!




Jason Freeman in Cumming, Georgia, writes: I would just like to know the insistence on picking a UNC, Miami, and now Duke! Until Duke did it last year, there has been only TWO schools that have represented the Coastal. And one of them is absolutely NEVER picked, I think you know which one I'm talking about! But what baffles me is, Duke is the favorite this season, but Georgia Tech went to Duke and embarrassed them, one of only two teams that beat them in the regular season! ... Oh and by the way, Georgia Tech beat the only other team to beat Duke in the regular season last year! And I know that Johnson isn't living up to what we thought he would do after the first two seasons. Keeping that in mind, we then were picked at the bottom in the Coastal and way surpassed expectations! But the same teams keep getting these exaggerated picks, and constantly fall under what is expected of them.

Rich in Atlanta writes: Shocking...that the media would pick Miami for the Coastal. Also funny that UNC & VT are ahead of GT. Duke maybe. Year after year, GT has the No. 1 offense in points and yardage for the Coastal (No. 1 in both categories again last year). What everyone is overlooking is that GT had the No. 2 defense in those categories last year only trailing VT. GT's average finishing rank in the Coastal is second since Coach Johnson arrived. D is on the upswing, O will produce as it always does. When has CPJ's O not been No. 1 in Coastal? Never.

Ryan in New York City writes: I'm definitely not one to downplay the Canes' woes of the last several seasons, particularly on defense. But I think most people are being really unfair in their evaluation of [Jake] Heaps. He had a very solid freshmen year at BYU before transferring due to a scheme change. Then he went to play for one of the worst coaches (Charlie Weis) at one of the worst programs (Kansas) where he got no help from his O-Line or receivers. At the very least, he's a mature player who has experienced a lot of different schemes, and will be in an offense with playmakers EVERYWHERE around him. By no means do I expect us to win the division (particularly because of the complete lack of defense), but I expect Heaps to earn the starting nod and surprise some people early in the season.

Phil in New York writes: Duke Johnson. Anthony Chickillo. Stacy Coley. Clive Walford. Phillip Dorsett. Herb Waters. Tyriq McCord. Tracy Howard.Get ready for your Coastal champs - the University of Miami Hurricanes!!!

CaliNative in SF/Miami writes: Miami and Virginia have the hardest conference schedules in the Coastal this year (Virginia's is harder because they play @FSU instead of UL). But my question is do you think if you switch Duke (or even VTech's) and Miami's schedule, do you think Miami becomes the overwhelming favorites? I mean Duke's schedule is set up only to lose to VT, UNC, and Miami. I think Miami (and UNC) are just set up so that they have to sweep the Coastal, or only have one loss, to win it. And honestly, that is the only reason I can see for not having Miami or UNC winning the Coastal.

Adelson writes: The schedule Miami has to play would be difficult for any team. One of the reasons why the Hurricanes want a nine-game league schedule is to even out the slate a little more for everyone. They have to play the Florida State Seminoles every year; their Coastal brethren don't. If Duke played Miami's schedule, then I would not pick the Blue Devils. Schedule is a huge reason why I think Duke has an edge, as I stated in the post. The schedule you play impacts how you finish, no matter how talented you are.




Al in Florida writes: You love to talk Miami down don't you, AA? I don't blame you, I would still be salty if I was a Gator fan. All Miami needs at QB is someone to get the ball to the playmakers without turning the ball over. We have the playmakers, more so than FSU or Clemson. Plus our O-line isn't too shabby. If (James) Coley can improve the O and if (Mark D'Onofrio's) D is half as good as it was last year, you can buy me a beer in North Carolina come December.

AJ Brown in Plantation, Fla., writes: The one true reason in my mind that Miami is favored to win the Coastal is because you can't ignore the talent that Miami possesses. Firstly, Miami has the best group of receivers RIGHT NOW in the entire ACC. That means that whoever starts at QB for Miami does not have to be STELLAR, but a game manager instead. Last year, the problem Miami had on offense was that Stephen Morris could not make the right reads and could not make the intermediate throws. Often times he was a one-trick pony who could only throw the deep ball. Jake Heaps, for example, may not have the arm or the pretty deep ball, but he can make the intermediate throws that Morris could not. As far as the defense, Miami SHOULD BE a lot better because of addition by subtraction. Miami had starters on the defense last season who had absolutely no business starting, like Tyrone Cornelius, Shayon Green, Jimmy Gaines, Kacy Rodgers and AJ Highsmith. The players replacing them are without a doubt more talented with way more athleticism, like Dallas Crawford, Jermaine Grace, Quan Muhammad, Jamal Carter, Tyriq McCord etc. Bottom line is, I don't think you can compare the talent level between Miami and Duke as Miami has a clear advantage there. I'm not saying Miami WILL win the Coastal, but I think you're drinking too much Blue Devil Kool-Aid because you're looking at Duke's Cinderella year from last season and the fact that they're returning their starting QB.

Adelson writes: I could not resist a parting shot. Duke beat the far more talented Miami head-to-head a year ago.
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- We can all agree just about every team in the cluttered Coastal Division has a chance to win it.

Yet, it was still a surprise to see Miami selected as the media’s preseason choice to play in its first ACC championship game. Sure, the Canes have a shot just like the other five teams that earned first-place votes, but it is hard to see how they have the best shot to make it to Charlotte.

Duke is my choice to finish first. Here is why I believe the Blue Devils have more of an edge than Miami headed into the season.

1. Quarterback. Duke is one of three teams in the league to return its starting quarterback. Senior Anthony Boone showed tremendous growth through 2013, and has used his fourth-quarter performance in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as an opportunity to grow and learn, too. Coach David Cutcliffe says Boone has taken on much more leadership, responsibility and accountability. He should, especially with Brandon Connette out of the mix.

SportsNation

Will Miami win the Coastal Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,622)

Miami, meanwhile, has no answers at quarterback -- not until Ryan Williams returns from a torn ACL. Kevin Olsen or Jake Heaps will have to pilot the Canes until then and there are major question marks around both. You don't need to read much into these comments from Johnson to wonder: Has Olsen matured? Can Heaps live up to the hype that trailed him out of high school? And even when Williams does return, he is no sure thing. He’s only taken a handful of snaps in mop-up duty at Miami and just two against Top 25 competition (garbage time in a blowout to Kansas State). Duke Johnson is one of the best players in the country, but Miami needs an effective quarterback to help him out. We don’t know yet whether he does.

2. Schedule. Miami plays one of the toughest schedules in the ACC. The Hurricanes get both Florida State and Louisville out of the Atlantic, and then have to play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night. No other bona fide Coastal contender has to face that trifecta. Miami will definitively be without Williams for the opener at Louisville, a team that destroyed the Canes in the Russell Athletic Bowl in December. Louisville has a radically different look, but the Cards already are favored to win. Duke, meanwhile, avoids Florida State, Clemson Tigers and Louisville, playing Syracuse Orange and Wake Forest from the Atlantic. In addition, the Blue Devils get Virginia Tech and North Carolina at home. It seems pretty clear Duke has the schedule advantage.

3. Defense. The truth is, neither defense was stellar last season. Miami and Duke ranked toward the bottom in the ACC in just about every major defensive category. But no coordinator is under fire more than Mark D'Onofrio at Miami. There is a level of play people have come to expect from the Miami defense, and nobody has seen it in years. Al Golden has talked up his group headed into this season, but acknowledges the defensive line needs to transform itself into a dominating group. For Miami to make the jump to a championship, it needs a vastly improved group. I’m just not sure the Canes will field a dominating defense this year.

Certainly, Miami has the talent to make it to the title game. The Canes had early momentum last year before they fell back, mostly because Johnson was hurt. A healthy Johnson gives Miami an opportunity to win all its games. But remember, even when Johnson was healthy last season Miami was living on the edge, needing fourth-quarter comebacks against Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, North Carolina and Wake Forest.

The bottom line is this: There are far too many questions to overlook to believe in Miami as the preseason Coastal favorites.

Agree? Disagree? Vote in our poll and drop me a line in the mailbag with your thoughts. Best comments go up Friday.
Headed to Greensboro for media day. Make sure you follow the ACC blog team on Twitter: Andrea will be tweeting from @ESPN_ACC, in addition to @DavidHaleESPN, @Matt_Fortuna and @JShankerESPN.

James in North Carolina writes: Do you think there is another division in college football as wide open as the Coastal? I think Duke, VT, Miami, and North Carolina are all very close talent wise, and any of them could beat each other on any given day. I don't feel that Pitt is on the same level, but with the other teams dishing out losses to each other, they could be right there in the mix. The same could be said for Georgia Tech. In my opinion, the only team that I don't think will compete is UVA, but strange things tend to happen in the ACC.

Andrea Adelson writes: The Coastal is without a doubt the most wide open division in college football. I have seen Duke, Virginia Tech and North Carolina all listed as preseason favorites; Miami won nine games last season; I expect Pitt to be much better; Georgia Tech has a long history of success in the Coastal and cannot be counted out; and Virginia will be much better and much more competitive. I would not be surprised if the entire division ended up with bowl eligibility this season, even the Hoos. I still think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners, followed closely by Virginia Tech, Pitt, Georgia Tech and Miami. The Hokies have a favorable schedule (BC and Wake from the Atlantic) and I am going to go ahead and guarantee they will be better on offense. Virginia Tech and Pitt might be slightly ahead of Georgia Tech and Miami. The Jackets have a lot of question marks on defense, and so does Miami (along with uncertainty at quarterback). Check back next week to see how we each voted in the ACC preseason poll. I wouldn't be surprised if we all pick a different Coastal champ.




Jon in Atlanta writes: Hey AA, I've been looking at a few projections about the ACC Coastal. I think it's pretty safe to say, that no one is a stand out winner. Some have UNC, some VT and some Duke. I would love for my Jackets to sneak in and win it. However, with a new QB and a few questions on the "D" side, I think that will be a tough stretch. I'm thinking it's going to be another 7 win season for us, what's your thoughts? Can we win more?

Adelson writes: I have not been overly optimistic about Georgia Tech this season. Then I read some interesting notes about the Jackets in the Phil Steele college football preview magazine. Did you know the Jackets have a .500 record or better in ACC play for 19 straight seasons -- the longest streak in the country? That stat alone makes it hard to completely discount Georgia Tech. I think Justin Thomas will be an upgrade over Vad Lee, and the offense will be fine. My biggest concern is the defense, particularly up front. Having said that, the nonconference schedule is easier than it has been over the past two seasons, Miami, Clemson and Duke all play in Atlanta and there are no midweek games on the schedule. This team has the potential to win more than seven games.




UM student in SF, Calif., writes: The past month Miami has been tearing it up on the recruiting trail. I mean the 2016 class is already shaping up to be special. I was wondering how much the fact that the NCAA cloud has passed played into this, and how long you think Golden has to step up and win some real games now. Do you think he gets like a clean slate or something?

Adelson writes: NCAA closure has been absolutely huge for Miami. Players who shied away from the Canes, even in-state, are now really giving Miami a close look. I wrote a little bit about the impact in the Tampa area. Golden is not on the hot seat by any stretch. Everybody in the administration knows what he was saddled with over the past three seasons, especially since he took the job and had no idea there would be a major NCAA investigation that would essentially take up every single season he has had to date. As for winning some real games, let's not forget about last season. Yes, it ended in disappointment, but Miami won nine and also beat Florida. The Gators ended up having a disastrous season, but at the time they played, Florida was viewed as the better team. I thought that was a big win for Golden and the program. Now, I know what you are getting at -- getting back to beating Florida State and playing for an ACC championship. Miami has assembled some talent over the past several years, but I still think the Canes are a few years away from consistent 10-12 win seasons. Having said that, I do think Golden deserves some patience. I know expectations are always sky-high at Miami. He wouldn't want it any other way. But at the same time, he has had more on his hands than any other coach in the league.




Wayne in Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Can my Noles learn to stay out of trouble? I know you have to wait for the all facts, but kick (Jesus Wilson) off the team and set an example. I'm tired of seeing this!

Adelson writes: I understand your frustration. Certainly, you are not the first college football fan tired of seeing athletes getting into trouble. Will kicking him off the team set an example? This year, Jimbo Fisher kicked Ira Denson off the team after he was charged with petty theft and the illegal use of a credit card. Wilson still got into trouble. Now, I realize the cases are different and it is sometimes hard to compare each offense. Denson allegedly perpetrated a crime against a teammate; Wilson allegedly stole a scooter. Should a coach kick every player off the team who is arrested and charged with a crime? How does a coach prevent athletes from getting arrested? These are all difficult questions each coach must face.

Eds note: Earlier this week, I profiled Clemson offensive lineman Kalon Davis and his study abroad trip to Kyoto, Japan. Tragically, professor E. Leslie Williams -- who led the trip -- died suddenly last week. Thoughts and prayers are with Davis, Williams and the Clemson family.

ACC mailblog

June, 13, 2014
Jun 13
4:00
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Friday the 13th!

Bruce in Amarillo, Texas, writes: I am scared for Virginia's season. We have a bad schedule. We open vs. UCLA. Has the AD gone nuts! UCLA will win the Pac-12 South and we have gone through QBs like glasses of water. Can Mike London save his job? I am not optimistic.

Andrea Adelson writes: Bruce, not many are optimistic about this season for the Hoos. I think they will be better than last year, but I have a hard time finding six wins on this schedule. Having Florida State as its crossover opponent from the Atlantic is an absolute killer, given the nonconference schedule. I predict going 2-2 in nonconference play and winning between two and three conference games. If Virginia can get to five wins and looks competitive for most of the season, I think London can keep his job given a) the extremely challenging schedule; and b) the young talent he has signed in the last few years. Five wins after that dreadful season should be considered progress, especially because there will be plenty left to build on into 2015.

 




Bruce in Lexington, South Carolina, writes: Riddle me this, Andrea: How can Clemson, South Carolina and Georgia all lose key personnel on offense and defense, including the quarterback for all three schools, yet all the pundits have Clemson barely in the Top 25 and South Carolina and Georgia in the top 10? Do you get an automatic boost just because you play in the SEC? I know the media loves Georgia no matter what, and they are definitely drinking the Spurrier Kool-Aid, so tell me, what gives?

Adelson: You answered yourself. I truly believe consistently successful SEC programs get an automatic boost based on conference perception. How many years in a row now has Georgia underachieved? Makes no difference to voters. Part of the reason, at least in Georgia's case, is the belief that all the success on the recruiting trail translates automatically into great teams year in and year out. As for Clemson, I think voters are still getting used to seeing the Tigers as a perennial 10-win team, and have yet to give Dabo Swinney full credit for his recruiting successes. Still, it's hard to argue this is a program that should be ahead of South Carolina right now. The Tigers have got to end that streak.

 




Kenneth Miller in Georgia writes: I'm getting the feeling that ESPN is not giving Georgia Tech a chance to win the ACC Coastal. But when you look at the ACC schedule, I'm seeing one potential loss between Virginia Tech or Clemson, so who do you think will win the Coastal, and also do you think the victor of the Coastal will have a chance to beat the Atlantic winner (cough, cough, FSU) because two years ago, FSU was projected to destroy Georgia Tech but the Yellow Jackets were one drive away from a meeting with Oklahoma or Northern Illinois.

Adelson writes: I tend to believe Georgia Tech will finish in the bottom half of the Coastal this season. There are far too many questions at key positions and some major depth concerns on the defensive line for me to pencil them in as a Coastal contender right now. I think the division will come down to North Carolina and Duke, and I do not see the Coastal champion beating Florida State in the ACC title game.

 




Roger in Atlanta writes: Andrea, can you give insight on Virginia Tech's QB situation? I can't seem to find anyone saying much about the competition there. From what I've read in the past, Frank Beamer gave Mark Leal the nod at the end of last season, but that was before Michael Brewer was going to be transferring in and before the two incoming freshmen were ever there.What used to be a thin position has now become problematically thick, in my opinion. I guess my questions are: Which QB do you think gives the Hokies the best chance to win, and will Beamer/Scot Loeffler make that decision?

Adelson: There has not been much news on the Virginia Tech quarterback front. Brewer just arrived on campus and has not even taken a snap in practice. Leal was overtaken in the spring by Brenden Motley, but that does not really mean much of anything because the job remains open. Beamer is going to give all three of these players, along with the incoming freshmen, the opportunity to win the starting job once fall rolls around. I know a lot of people believe Brewer is going to ultimately win out. The logic there says Brewer would not have transferred in if Leal was the hands-down No. 1 quarterback. But there are plenty of unknowns about Brewer as well. I think it is too early to say right now who gives the Hokies the best chance to win because I've never seen Brewer in the Virginia Tech offense. But there is no doubt in my mind Beamer and Loeffler will play the guy who can get the job done.

St. Patrick's Day in the ACC

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
4:00
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Today is your lucky day, ACC.

In honor of the Irish (not you, Notre Dame), we’re handing out some four-leaf clovers, which could serve as good luck charms for teams, players and coaches who could use a wee bit o’ luck this season. Happy St. Patrick’s Day, everyone, especially to the following, who have been down on their luck lately:

1. Coastal Division coaches: Virginia coach Mike London is trying to reverse a 2-10 season, while his rival, Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, is feeling some heat after winning eight games last season. Many Georgia Tech fans have grown weary of coach Paul Johnson, and Miami coach Al Golden knows that even a nine-win season doesn’t cut it in Coral Gables. The entire division yielded criticism last year for its mediocrity, but with a little luck -- and a few good quarterbacks -- that could change.

[+] EnlargeJarvis Byrd
AP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaNC State's Jarvis Byrd, recently granted a sixth year of eligibility because of injuries, could use a bit of luck.
2. NC State safety Jarvis Byrd: If anyone needs an Irish blessing, it’s this guy. After three torn ACLs, Byrd recently was granted a sixth year of eligibility. He missed all of 2010 and 2011 with separate ACL injuries, and then last year he suffered another one in the fifth game of the season. Irish eyes should be smiling on Byrd this season. He’ll be a much-needed veteran on a young Wolfpack roster.

3. Miami defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio: His defense is looking for a pot of gold, but Miami fans can’t even find the rainbow. D’Onofrio has unofficially replaced former Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring as the coordinator fans love to hate. In eight conference games, Miami managed 12 sacks and ranked last in total defense, No. 12 in scoring defense and No. 13 in rushing defense. The Hurricanes were statistically worse in scoring defense and rushing defense in ACC play in 2013 and only had three more sacks than a year ago. Mark, “May the road rise up to meet you / May the wind always be at your back / May your defense find the quarterbacks / and remember how to get a sack.”

4. Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler: Is the name Leal Irish? Because Loeffler needs some luck at quarterback, and it’s up to first-year starter Mark Leal to bring him some this spring. After suffering through back-to-back seasons of offensive ineptitude, Virginia Tech fans are looking for some significant improvement in Loeffler’s second season. The Hokies were No. 12 in the ACC in scoring offense last year and No. 13 in total offense.

5. Louisville coach Bobby Petrino: Where to begin? He needs a new quarterback. He needs to replace his leading tackler. He’s missing an all-conference duo at safety and his top sack-producer from a year ago. Not to mention the fact he’s got a new staff, is playing in a new conference and is in the same division as defending national champion Florida State and Orange Bowl champ Clemson. “May you always walk in sunshine / May you never want for more / May Irish angles leave you a quarterback at your door.”
Full disclosure: Andrea Adelson and I have no idea who is going to win the Coastal Division this year. (Shocking, I know, in spite of our heaps of expertise.) Don’t believe anyone who tells you they do. There’s not a coach or player in this league who can figure out that division, which has turned into a showdown between two basketball schools.

AA and I both think Duke and North Carolina are the front-runners in the division, and we’re leaning toward picking the Blue Devils as the preseason winners. We’ve watched the ACC too long, though, to declare anyone king before, well, Nov. 29.

SportsNation

Who will win the ACC's Coastal Division?

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Discuss (Total votes: 8,069)

Based on what we know now, here’s a look at our top five contenders to win the division. Take a look, and then cast your own vote:

Duke: The Blue Devils had a special season last year that ended with the program’s first appearance in the ACC championship and a spot in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Coach David Cutcliffe has said that the 2013 season won’t be a flash in the pan, and he’s got good reason to believe it. Duke has 17 starters returning from a team that won a school-record 10 games last fall, including quarterback Anthony Boone, who is just one of five quarterbacks in the conference who started last year. Duke also returns Jamison Crowder, who set the school single-season record for pass receptions (108, also an ACC record), and three starters along the offensive line.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels ended 2013 with positive momentum, winning five of their last six regular-season games and punctuating the season with a 39-17 win over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl. They return experience at quarterback with Marquise Williams, and they’ve got one of the top punt returners in the country in Ryan Switzer. There’s a lot of young talent on the roster that got valuable reps last fall, and the team should be even more cohesive now that coach Larry Fedora has been there for two seasons. If the Tar Heels can find some answers on their offensive line this spring, and get more out of their running game – and win at Duke – they could find themselves in Charlotte.

[+] EnlargeDuke Johnson
Joel Auerbach/Getty ImagesCan Duke Johnson and Miami finally break through in the ACC Coastal?
Pitt: The Panthers had an average first season in the ACC, finishing 7-6 with a bowl victory over Bowling Green. They’ve got to do better, though, against their own division. Pitt went 2-4 last year against the rest of the Coastal Division, beating Duke and Virginia in September. Quarterback Chad Voytik is the leading candidate to replace Tom Savage, and the Panthers will also sorely miss defensive tackle Aaron Donald and wide receiver Devin Street. They’ve got some special talent returning, though, in receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner. They ranked 102nd in the country, though, in rushing yards, and constantly struggled to protect Savage. They’ve got to be better up front to be a contender.

Miami: There are two main storylines this spring for the Canes: Finding a new starting quarterback and getting better on defense. If Miami can figure out those two issues before the season opener against Louisville, they’ve got a chance to take the next step and play for the school’s first ACC title. Of course, neither of those are small tasks. Ryan Williams is the front-runner to replace Stephen Morris, and he has some dynamic players around him to make his job easier. Running back Duke Johnson is one of the country’s most exciting players, and the Canes also return wide receiver Phillip Dorsett and Stacy Coley. The defense should get a big boost from the return of linebacker Denzel Perryman, but Miami fans are expecting more from embattled coordinator Mark D’Onofrio.

Virginia Tech: Offense, offense, offense. The Hokies need to find it if they’re going to move up this list. Fifth-year senior Mark Leal is the front-runner to replace Logan Thomas this spring, but the quarterback position is hardly the only question facing coordinator Scot Loeffler this spring. Virginia Tech needs to get more out of its running game. It needs the wide receivers to be more physical, more consistent, and a deep threat must be found. It needs better blocking from the offensive line and fewer errors. Sure, the Hokies have some big shoes to fill on defense, but the standard has already been set under Bud Foster, and the expectation is to reload. If this season is going to be different for Virginia Tech, it’s on the offense to get them there.

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