The ACC's Coastal Division is wide open entering the 2014 season. With six of seven teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll, the possibilities for how this race shakes out are seemingly endless. Here, we take a look at the six teams that garnered first-place votes, examining reasons that are working for and against them in their quests to get to the ACC title game.
Why Pittsburgh will win the Coastal
1. Tyler Boyd is among the conference’s best receivers. And he might be the best by season’s end. As a freshman, Boyd compiled nearly 1,200 receiving yards and brought a playmaking element to the Pitt offense it has not had in a few seasons. With Aaron Donald, Tom Savage and Devin Street all pursuing NFL careers, this is now Boyd’s team. An elite playmaker, Boyd’s impact on his teammates as a locker room leader will be equally important. Boyd lost just one game in his high school career, and he is bringing that winning mentality to Pittsburgh. Boyd does not deal well with losing.
2. The running game will keep pressure off Chad Voytik. The Panthers’ new starting quarterback showed positive flashes during the team’s bowl victory, but the redshirt sophomore obviously will take his lumps in his first season as the No. 1 quarterback. The good news is Pittsburgh is stocked at running back, which means Voytik will be able to feed off the rushing attack. Senior Isaac Bennett returns as the starter, but Pitt fans might be most excited about sophomore James Conner, who set a Pitt bowl-game rushing record in December. There is a chance Conner might move to defensive end full time, but the remaining Panthers backs would be able to shoulder the load even without Conner’s bruising running style. Sophomore Rachid Ibrahim played in every game last season, and Pitt signed talented three-star recruits Chris James and Qadree Ollison in February.
3. The schedule is favorable. Pitt was thrown into the ACC fire last season with an opening game against Florida State and Jameis Winston, whom we learned that night was going to be a special player. The Seminoles rotate off the schedule this season, and Pitt also avoids Clemson and Louisville, which means the Panthers will not play any of the teams projected to finish in the top three of the Atlantic Division. They play Boston College, Miami, North Carolina and Virginia on the road, all manageable games away from Heinz Field. The Panthers’ three toughest games might all come in a row, in but they will all be at home. The Panthers host Virginia Tech on a Thursday night before Georgia Tech and Duke travel to the Steel City.
Why Pitt won’t win the Coastal
1. The offensive line was porous last season. Savage was beaten and bloodied in 2013 behind an offensive line that failed to protect him many times. The Panthers return most of their offensive line, which could be a good or bad thing. The line should be more experienced, but that does not necessarily mean it will be better. Few programs return as many starters from a season ago as the Panthers do on the line. The left side of the offensive line could be the key to the Panthers’ offensive success. Left tackle Adam Bisnowaty is talented, but he battled back injuries at the end of last season. Dorian Johnson was a blue-chip recruit and played extensively as a freshman, and he’ll start alongside Bisnowaty.
2. Voytik has very limited experience at quarterback. While Voytik showed a lot of promise during the Panthers’ bowl victory, the redshirt sophomore has thrown only 11 passes in his career. A four-star recruit, Voytik is clearly not short on talent, but it isn’t as simple as inserting him in the starting lineup with the expectation the offense will not miss a beat. A Sept. 5 night game at Boston College should provide an early glimpse into Voytik's potential.
3. The defense is not consistent enough. Defense is a staple in the city of Pittsburgh, and the Panthers did not show enough of it last season. In their first two conference games, the unit allowed 99 points. It was against Duke and Florida State, but there is no excuse for those kinds of defensive efforts, especially if the plan is to compete for a division title. There are still issues throughout the defense, and Donald isn't around to mask some of them.