Little things that could mean a lot, Coastal Division

April, 16, 2010
4/16/10
3:59
PM ET
Earlier this month while guest-hosting the ACC blog, I wrote about some little improvements that each Atlantic Division team could make this year that might make the difference between a good year and a great one (or a mediocre one and a good one. Or ... well, you get the point).

We're not talking about big things like becoming a better rushing team or defending the passing game. This is about areas of the game that might escape your attention but could add up to another win or two in a balanced league.

Anyway, I don't want to leave out fans of teams in the Coastal Division (that is a thing, right?). So here we go:

Duke: punting. The Blue Devils ranked last in the ACC and 107th nationally in net punting at just 32.9 yards per kick, and they were 96th in the FBS in punt returns at 6.2 yards per attempt. Every yard counts when you're trying to get over the hump and get back to bowl eligibility.

Georgia Tech: field goal kicking. There isn't a lot to complain about with the defending ACC champs. But the Jackets missed six of their 20 field goal attempts, including misses in all three of their losses in 2009. A few more points here and there could mean the difference between a BCS game and the BCS title game.

Miami: turnover margin. The Hurricanes ended up with a net balance of zero between their turnovers and their opponents' giveaways. That's due in large part to Jacory Harris' 17 interceptions. Getting on the right side of that ledger is key to Miami having a real breakthrough year.

North Carolina: penalties. The Tar Heels' 735 penalty yards were the second-most in the ACC last season. Combine that with the fact that their opponents gave away the second-fewest amount of penalty yards, and you have a lot of field position being sacrificed.

Virginia Tech: third-down conversions. Statistically speaking, the Hokies weren't really bad at anything. So let's focus on their two ACC losses, to Georgia Tech and North Carolina. In those games, Virginia Tech was a combined 8-of-23 on third downs, well under its season conversion rate of 43 percent.

Virginia: kickoff returns Statistically speaking, the Cavaliers weren't that good at anything. But let's start with one area where new coach Mike London can quickly make progress. Virginia was last in the ACC and 113th in the nation in kickoff returns at just 18.6 yards per try. That means the Cavaliers were in a field-position hole to start many drives. Every little bit helps.

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