ACC Coastal Preview

NEW FACES MAKE DANGEROUS DIVISION A TRUE CRAPSHOOT IN 2011

In recent years, the Coastal Division of the Atlantic Coast Conference has generally received a lot of national respect.

Virginia Tech is always a dangerous team who can play with anybody. Miami of Florida had been making strides back to respectability after rejuvenating the program. North Carolina's Butch Davis is seen as a high impact coach at this level. Georgia Tech installed the Navy offense and jumped to first place.

Things could get messy this year…

*Virginia Tech won't have Tyrod Taylor at quarterback any more. He led the team to the division and conference crown last season. Head Coach Frank Beamer also lost about half his defensive starters…from a unit that had slumped down to 52nd in total defense to begin with.

*North Carolina, the only Coastal Divisional team to win its bowl last year, will be starting from scratch with a new quarterback, and an even more depleted defense than Virginia Tech is dealing with. There were also plenty of off-the-field distractions that could have an impact on how the team performs as well.

*Miami of Florida let head coach Randy Shannon go because 'cleaning up' the program wasn't yielding enough wins. Al Golden of Temple is the new man. Golden did work wonders at Temple…but that was in a terrible conference where it's easy to jump to respectability pretty quickly. Winning at Miami will be a much tougher challenge, even if quarterback Jacory Harris can keep his head on straight.

*Georgia Tech looks to be experienced at quarterback by default. As least signal caller Tevin Washington started four games last year. The team didn't exactly shine in those starts, and ended up dropping five of their last six games. There were offseason distractions here too in terms of NCAA violations.

*Virginia will also be breaking in a new quarterback. They were only 1-7 in league play last year with the one they had!

Only doormat Duke returns both its head coach and an experienced starting quarterback.

If the new faces can handle their challenges, this could be a very important grouping in college football this season. If not…then things could get ugly very quickly here (and in the ACC as a whole given some of the issues you read about yesterday in the Atlantic Division).

Let's run some numbers…

ACC COASTAL

VIRGINIA TECH
Athlon Ranking: 7th
2010 Total Offense: 41st
2010 Total Defense: 52nd
Strength: Rush Offense (23rd)
Weakness: Pass Defense (72nd)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Notebook: At times, Virginia Tech looked like a true national power last year. But, we're talking about a team that lost to James Madison, couldn't beat Boise State in a home-neutral environment, then got waxed by Stanford 40-12 in the Orange Bowl. They only had the stat rankings of about the 45th best team in the nation. What saved them, as usual, was turnover differential. Their +19 margin was the best in the nation. If you can keep you composure against the Hokies, you can beat them even if you're James Madison! If you succumb to the pressure, it's very hard to catch them from behind. You know Tech is going to keep playing Beamer-ball. We're skeptical that they're a top 10 team heading into the season. Maybe if the new quarterback settles in against a very weak early schedule, this team will grow into their preseason ranking. There are few tests this year, with a home game on October 8th vs. Miami sitting as the most dangerous spot on the calendar.

MIAMI-FLORIDA
Athlon Ranking: 19th
2010 Total Offense: 31st
2010 Total Defense: 22nd
Strength: Pass Defense (3rd)
Weakness: Rush Defense (84th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Al Golden (new)
Notebook: The city didn't exactly throw a parade when Golden was hired, even if he brings a solid reputation to the party. Winning at Temple just doesn't mean anything. Things could go downhill very quickly here if the players don't buy into the new program. You saw lethargic efforts last year late vs. Virginia Tech (31-17 loss), South Florida (23-20 loss as a clear favorite), and Notre Dame (33-17 loss in the Sun Bowl). Attitude is everything in South Beach. We'll be looking for swagger in early season games vs. Maryland, Ohio State, and Kansas State. Welcome to your new job Al Golden! Give Miami credit for scheduling tough and getting themselves on TV. Our stat handicappers will be watching run defense very closely. Miami was an embarrassing 84th in the nation last year in that stat as you see above. Nobody has swagger if they can't stop the run.

NORTH CAROLINA
Athlon Ranking: 36th
2010 Total Offense: 51st
2010 Total Defense: 30th
Strength: Rush Defense (22nd)
Weakness: Rush Offense (94th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Butch Davis
Notebook: North Carolina was even worse than Miami at stopping the run, and that came against a schedule that included William & Mary, Duke, and Rutgers (wins by 4-5 points against soft opposition). If Davis can get his best players on the field…healthy…and without distractions regarding rules violations, then this team could certainly be relevant. Is that even possible any more? Personnel changes on the staff and on the field make this team a big question mark. A soft early schedule will allow for a manageable transition. To this point, we're starting to think that the ACC as a whole is going to create illusions with a soft early schedule…before getting pounded in the postseason. Make a note of that now!

GEORGIA TECH
Athlon Ranking: 50th
2010 Total Offense: 36th
2010 Total Defense: 64th
Strength: Rush Offense (1st)
Weakness: Pass Offense (119th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Notebook: The bloom is off the rose here to so to speak. Defenses finally started figuring out how to deal with the option attack. We expected that to happen immediately. ACC defenses were disappointingly slow and arrogant regarding the challenge. But, NOW, Tech is having trouble making a go of it. Even though they ranked 36th in yardage offense last year, they ranked only 71st in scoring offense. They could move between the 20's before bogging down. That was a big issue in their 1-5 finish. And, this was a team that lost to lowly Kansas in early September! Recent reports of violations couldn't have helped the mindset at all. Coach Johnson is complaining that the punishments were too strict, rather than admitting his wrongdoing and moving forward. A September 24th meeting with North Carolina will tell us a lot about both teams.

VIRGINIA
Athlon Ranking: 75th
2010 Total Offense: 37th
2010 Total Defense: 78th
Strength: Passing Game (25th on both sides)
Weakness: Rush Defense (106th)
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Mike London
Notebook: The media made a big deal about London's emotions after they upset Miami of Florida. He and the team fell off the radar after that, closing out 0-4. Their other wins besides Miami came against Richmond, VMI, and Eastern Michigan. So…the upset was a borderline miracle! The good news is that a lot of experience is back. The bad news is that they have to break in a new quarterback…on a team that wasn't as good as their record anyway. Don't let the one Cinderella game trick you into thinking this is a team on the rise. They ranked 106th in the nation at defending the run despite playing in a so-so conference and having three cupcake opponents. Heck, maybe somebody will rise amongst all these question marks and surprise us. Or, somebody will stand pat and it will look like they're rising!

DUKE
Athlon Ranking: 77th
2010 Total Offense: 59th
2010 Total Defense: 108th
Strength: Pass Offense (22nd)
Weakness: Rush Defense (113th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe
Notebook: We'll be looking for value spots with these guys in the first half of the season. They covered six of their last eight games in 2010 because bettors and oddsmakers gave up on them. Quarterback Sean Renfree should pick up right where he left off. You can see above he left off with the 22nd ranked passing offense. Duke's defense showed signs of improvement late in the year vs. their own class of team. Given all the QB upheaval in the ACC this year, that will give the Blue Devils a chance at improving on their 1-7 league record. Stanford will provide a huge early litmus test for the 2011 squad on September 10th. We'll be thinking about the Blue Devils when they step down in class for Tulane and Florida International after that. Finally some good news in the ACC!

We still have two more major conferences to discuss in this summer series of previews. We'll look at the Big 12 next Saturday (featuring now just 10 teams), and the Big East on Sunday. August will bring mid-major breakdowns every weekend, and all eight NFL divisional previews on weekdays that feature preseason TV action.

IT'S TIME TO GET READY FOR FOOTBALL!

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We do have a major release planned in the Sunday bases highlightged by Atlanta/Cincinnati in the prime time game on ESPN, and we're looking Seattle/Boston on TBS this afternoon, or pennant race games like St. Louis/Pittsburgh, San Francisco/Milwaukee, and Chicago White Sox/Cleveland. Game day releases always go up a few hours before first pitch.

Back with more sports coverage Monday in the NOTEBOOK. Don't forget that…with JIM HURLEY, the letters ACC stand for ALWAYS COLLECTING CASH!

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Nov

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