ACC Coastal Preview

ACC COASTAL PREVIEW: VIRGINIA TECH LIKELY BEST AMONGST DIVISIONAL TURMOIL

Yesterday we talked about all the 2011 disappointments over in the ACC Atlantic Division. The low point was Clemson's demolition at the hands of West Virginia in the Orange Bowl. And, that represented a low point for the ACC as a whole because Clemson was the conference champ! As we move to the Coastal Division, we see more postseason woes:

  • Virginia Tech lost to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl (after falling twice to the Clemson team that got annihilated by West Virginia).

  • Virginia lost big to an unimpressive Auburn team in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.

  • North Carolina lost big to Missouri in the Independence Bowl.

  • Georgia Tech lost to Utah in the Sun Bowl.

  • Miami and Duke didn't go bowling.

So, that's 0 for the Division! ACC had a real chance to make a statement last year vs. prominent names across the college football landscape. They did. Their statement was "We're extremely overrated and you need to stop listening to media hype!"

Things could be really messy this year for the teams over here in the Coastal. We'll go more in depth in a moment. But, in short:

  • Virginia Tech only has 3 starters back on offense.

  • North Carolina has a new head coach because they got caught misbehaving so much under the old coach.

  • Miami has the threat of the "death penalty" hanging over the program after recent reports of more malfeasance for that grimy program.

What's typically seen as a deep division outside of Duke might now drift away from relevance unless the Hokies can find new scoring threats to carry the division's banner. Onto the previews!

ATLANTIC COASTAL

VIRGINIA TECH
Athlon Ranking: 16th
2011 Total Offense: 35th
2011 Total Defense: 10th
Strength: Rush Defense (14th)
Weakness: Pass Offfense (66th)
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Notebook: Last year was superficially pretty good with an11-0 record outside of Clemson and Michigan. But, there were close wins over the likes of East Carolina, Miami, Duke, and North Carolina that were certainly less than impressive. The schedule was weak, weaker than it seemed at the time because the ACC as a whole was exposed in the bowls. The great defensive stats are hard to trust given how Clemson scored in the games that mattered most. We don't see this as a top 15 type team ourselves. Another soft schedule (Austin Peay, Pitt, Bowling Green, and Cincinnati are the non-conference games) should allow the Hokies to post a good record. The opener against Georgia Tech could get interesting if the inexperienced offense is overmatched out of the gate. We'll look at the Yellowjackets in a moment. Tech will probably be a go-against team for us except against mistake-prone foes who may cough up cheap points against Beamer-ball.

NORTH CAROLINA
Athlon Ranking: 29th
2011 Total Offense: 53rd
2011 Total Defense: 49th
Strength: Rush Defense (27th)
Weakness: Pass Defense (78th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Larry Fedora
Notebook: Fedora comes over from Southern Miss to try and salvage a program that's seemingly on the brink of something special in one direction, or the brink of disaster in the other given all the off-the-field issues in Chapel Hill. Quarterback Bryn Renner is back. He was quietly effective against outmatched opponents like Duke, East Carolina, or James Madison. He was inconsistent otherwise...which graded out well in an overrated league but doesn't make him a star. Road games in September at Wake Forest and Louisville will provide manageable tests. A real team would win those. A pretender would get exposed at least once. Note that Carolina is bowl ineligible because of NCAA sanctions...which could hurt the mood of the team if things start to get away from Fedora.

GEORGIA TECH
Athlon Ranking: 35th
2011 Total Offense: 18th
2011 Total Defense: 44th
Strength: Rush Offense (2nd)
Weakness: Pass Offense (112th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Notebook: We don't want to sound like downers with every single ACC team. Tech does return their starting quarterback, their head coach, and a lot of talent on both sides of the ball. That gives them a real chance to matter again in the ACC if they can keep their heads on straight while everyone else is losing theirs. That being said, the team was 8-5 last year with wins over the likes of Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee, Kansas, and annual doormat Duke. They wouldn't strike you as something special in a better conference, as a home loss to Georgia 31-17 makes clear. They do have a shot to make the season opener at Virginia Tech interesting given the lack of experience on the Hokies offense. We might be on the visitor in that one depending on what we hear from our sources about preparation practices. Should Tech grab a win, that's already the tie-breaker they might need at the end of the year at the top of the Coastal heap.

VIRGINIA
Athlon Ranking: 36th
2011 Total Offense: 46th
2011 Total Defense: 40th
Strength: Pass Defense (45th)
Weakness: Pass Offense (56th)
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Mike London
Notebook: Virginia is the type of team that can go overtime at home against somebody bad like Idaho, but then spring an upset on the road at Florida State. You can't trust them to perform on command. But, they do have games where the defense hurts people and the offense avoids mistakes. That will once again have us looking for "dangerous dog" spots for London and the Cavaliers...but not investing in them regularly. If returning quarterback Michael Rocco shows promise early against Penn State, Georgia Tech, and TCU, we'll think more about them as a divisional threat. You just never know in turmoil filled divisions. Should North Carolina and Miami lose their initiative, somebody like Virginia will be right there to take advantage. Interesting potential for this team.

MIAMI
Athlon Ranking: 48th
2011 Total Offense: 70th
2011 Total Defense: 45th
Strength: Pass Defense (29th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (71st)
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Al Golden
Notebook: Wow...the TV guys spend all year telling you how Al Golden is cleaning things up...then news reports break during the summer about the possibility of violations after he took over. And, that dark cloud will be in the sky as they deal with a potentially tough season opener on the road at Boston College, followed immediately by a definitely tough visit to Kansas State, followed two weeks later by a tough road game at Georgia Tech, followed two weeks later by a game vs. Notre Dame in Chicago. Oh, Florida State and Virginia Tech are on the second half schedule. This is a potential disaster. Or, it's a potential "us against the world" comeback with the future of the program at stake. Plenty of drama to be sure. We'll be looking to go against the Hurricanes at Kansas State in the letdown off a conference road opener. Fading them could turn into a theme if their season turns into one long migraine for Golden.

DUKE
Athlon Ranking: 80th
2011 Total Offense: 79th
2011 Total Defense: 92nd
Strength: Pass Offense (28th)
Weakness: Rush Offense (115th)
Returning Starters: 7 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe
Notebook: There's a chance for Duke to play some very interesting football this year because quarterback Sean Renfree returns for a pass offense that ranked 28th in 2011. That will give them a chance to back door some teams who don't take them seriously enough. And, who knows, maybe Duke can climb out of the cellar if somebody else hits runs into the ever-present potholes in this division. An early game at Stanford has the chance to become important because the Cardinal are rebuilding with a new quarterback. You want to root for a team like Duke. And, it's okay to pick your spots with them against unfocused opposition. The beef isn't there to play good all the time though. Fatigue always hits the undersized programs at some point during the season.

At least THAT'S out of the way! The ACC picture may ultimately shine brighter than we've suggested in the previews. At least we know that big name programs playing big time football are coming up through the rest of the month as our conference previews continue.

We do want to point out that our NFL Divisional previews start MONDAY! The exhibition slate gets under way tonight with the Hall of Fame Game matching Arizona and New Orleans. That will trigger our annual August divisional previews. We'll do the AFC this week Monday through Thursday (one division per day), followed by the NFC next week (same format). That's right...football will run every day but Friday in the NOTEBOOK over the next two weeks!

We know you're excited about the start of the football season. SO IS JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK! We still have great early-bird rates on our Preseason and Full Season packages. Sign up online, or get more information by calling 1-800-323-4453. Combination packages with baseball are available for the asking. You can make money SEVEN DAYS A WEEK through August if you're playing both the bases and football.

Back with you Monday to start our NFL Divisional previews. Do your homework now so the regular season is a breeze!

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