- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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Virginia Tech is down, Duke is up.
Georgia Tech is still in, Virginia is out.
Miami is still ineligible to declare itself ineligible, and North Carolina IS ineligible.
Welcome to the wacky ACC Coastal Division, the funhouse mirror of the ACC, where nothing is as it appears. Nobody is really as bad -- or as good -- as they might look at first glance.
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, three teams -- Miami, Duke and Georgia Tech -- are still in the hunt to win the division title and play for the ACC championship in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 1. The entire race could change, though -- opening the door for even Virginia Tech -- should Miami self-impose a postseason ban if and when it becomes bowl eligible. It’s been one of the most bizarre and unpredictable seasons since the league was split into two divisions, as no team other than Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech has ever won the division.
And now? Well, now Duke can win it.
With Virginia Tech, the preseason favorite, out of the race, nobody having fewer than three league losses already, only one bowl eligible team and Duke two wins away from winning the division, the national perception is that the division is down.
“I don’t take offense to that,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I chuckle at it. I do. We kind of find that a little bit of fun. This business is hard, so you might as well make it fun. It does make me chuckle. We’ve got a good football team. We’re not a great football team just yet, but we’ve got a good football team in all three phases and I think anybody who’s played us will tell you that. Now, we haven’t played well in three ballgames. Part of that is the opponent, part of that is we didn’t play well. We’re a work in progress. We’re just very proud and happy to be a part of something in November that’s meaningful.”
Duke’s game at Georgia Tech on Saturday will be one of the most meaningful games Duke’s program has played in decades. Georgia Tech, though, is still trying to become bowl eligible. So is Miami. And Virginia. And Virginia Tech. Shockingly, Duke is the only bowl-eligible team in the division, as North Carolina is banned from the postseason because of NCAA sanctions.
“I wouldn’t characterize it as a down year,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “... This year, you look at all the things that are going on, the home and away wins, the last-second wins. The year definitely is one you can look at and say, ‘Who would’ve thought that?’”
Not many thought Virginia would rally from a six-game losing streak and beat NC State on the road and Miami at home. How many picked Duke to beat North Carolina? Go to Vegas if you saw Virginia Tech losing to Pitt in Week 3 and Georgia Tech losing to Middle Tennessee.
One thing to consider that has been overlooked in the ACC race: Because of the ACC’s rotating cross-divisional schedule, Duke and Virginia Tech are the only two teams in the Coastal Division that have had to play the ACC’s top two teams, No. 10 Florida State and No. 11 Clemson. Duke had the misfortune of playing them in back-to-back weeks.
“It changes around over a period of time,” said Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer. “It’s certainly fair and probably the only way to do it when you’ve got as many teams in the conference as we do. Over a period of time it all works out.”
It didn’t work out so well for either the Hokies or Blue Devils. Virginia Tech lost both games, and Duke allowed a total of 104 points to be scored in both losses.
And yet they’re still in the mix. Right there along with Miami and Georgia Tech -- both of which have five losses this season.
Makes perfect sense in this nonsensical season.
5hDavid M. Hale
1dDavid M. Hale