ACC Coastal Division Preview
Network Notebook: ACC "Coastal" Division Preview
Skeptics of the ACC run into a roadblock when they try to suggest that Georgia Tech is a pretender. Yes, they have some weaknesses, and are trying to win modern football with an old-school option attack. But, this is a team that finished last season by beating Clemson 28-6, beating Georgia in overtime, losing a two-point heartbreaker to Florida State, then running roughshod over respected Mississippi State of the SEC in a 49-34 Orange Bowl victory.
That’s about as “for real” as it gets. No…the Yellow Jackets aren’t any sort of national championship threat because they don’t have the horses to win two straight games against Ohio State/Alabama type teams. But, they could easily crush the Coastal Division of the ACC this year on the way to another big bowl appearance.
Let’s run through our key preview stats and see how this division should play out in 2015. If you missed our look at the “Atlantic” Division, check the archives for the report that ran yesterday.
2014 Record: 11-32014 Rankings: 19 on offense, 79 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Paul Johnson
Notebook: Defense wins championships…and it’s very hard to be a true superpower with a defense that can’t crack the top 75. Justin Thomas returns at quarterback…so the offense should be a handful for opponents once again. Though, elite rush defenses should be able to disrupt Tech’s option. Late September gets interesting at Notre Dame and at Duke (projected #2 in this division). Both Clemson and FSU show up from the other half of the ACC not long afterward. You may spend a lot more time watching Georgia Tech football this year than you had anticipated! This group won’t really step up in class until they defend better.
2014 Record: 9-4
2014 Rankings: 66 on offense, 67 on defense
Returning Starters: 6 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: David Cutcliffe
Notebook: It’s an indictment of the ACC that a team who can’t crack the top 60 rankings on either side of the ball can post a winning record. There’s a lot to like about attitude and effort with this program under Coach Cutcliffe. They don’t have the physicality and depth to be a true force. A very manageable schedule should launch them back to a bowl unless the new starting quarterback just can’t get things figured out. The “game of the year” in this division is the final Saturday of September when Duke hosts Georgia Tech.
2014 Record: 6-7
2014 Rankings: 45 on offense, 117 on defense
Returning Starters: 10 on offense, 6 on defense
Head Coach: Larry Fedora
Notebook: You have to remember that Carolina plays super-fast…which means ranking #45 on offense is fairly lousy…and the pace wears down a defense that has to be on the field much more than everyone else. This is how you lose a bowl game to Rutgers 40-21! The offense should be more of a force this year with all the returning starters (including quarterback Marquise Williams). When they avoid turnovers…they’ll again make serious runs at 40 or 50 points. No way this kind of defense can do more than survive for “bowl eligibility” amidst a string of shootouts. Good season opener vs. South Carolina.
2014 Record: 6-7
2014 Rankings: 40 on offense, 33 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 7 on defense
Head Coach: Pat Narduzzi (first year)
Notebook: Pitt had a stretch last season where they lost six games out of seven (including a home loss to Akron!). Yet, they still earned a bowl bid (loss to Houston), and saw their coach hired away by Wisconsin at season’s end. Quarterback Chad Voytik will be a key. He closed the season well against a schedule that wasn’t particularly dynamic. Pitt is an ACC tweener, which means it’s hard to really respect them until they earn it.
2014 Record: 7-6
2014 Rankings: 96 on offense, 21 on defense
Returning Starters: 8 on offense, 8 on defense
Head Coach: Frank Beamer
Notebook: The Hokies have a chance to make a huge early statement in their home opener against defending National Champion Ohio State on Labor Day night. The whole world will be watching that game. Quarterback Michael Brewer will need to play flawless. And, the defense (with all the preparation time in the world) will have to throw more monkey wrenches in the way of OSU’s potent attack. Remember that Tech beat OSU last year 35-21 in Columbus! Who could have imagined that the Buckeyes would run the table after that…while Virginia Tech would slump to 5-6? You should know that we have the Hokies higher than Pittsburgh in our own proprietary Power Ratings (we post in the order of Athlon’s rankings since we use their stats and data in these previews). And, not much separates teams 2-6 in terms of legitimate 2015 potential. If Virginia Tech can bounce back into contention, their game at Georgia Tech in early November will become very important.
2014 Record: 6-7
2014 Rankings: 44 on offense, 14 on defense
Returning Starters: 3 on offense, 5 on defense
Head Coach: Al Golden
Notebook: Promising Brad Kaaya returns at quarterback…but he’s going to have a lot of new faces around him in the starting lineup. The Hurricanes lost their last four games of 2014…though heartbreakers against Florida State and South Carolina (Independence Bowl) were far from embarrassing. For now…we still think Coach Golden and Kaaya are getting too much media hype based on their actual performances. A soft early schedule should at least keep people healthy for league play.
2014 Record: 5-7
2014 Rankings: 87 on offense, 28 on defense
Returning Starters: 5 on offense, 4 on defense
Head Coach: Mike London
Notebook: Virginia has some experience at quarterback…but is choosing from options that haven’t impressed. Mike London’s job continues to hang by a thread. The Cavaliers lost five of their last six games in 2014, and is rebuilding off a slump! At least the team doesn’t schedule soft. Give them credit for not taking the easy way out. Virginia opens with UCLA and Notre Dame, and then also faces Boise State in the first month. The defense needs to be ready for the opening bell if this team is going to be competitive out of the gate.
It would be very easy to write off most of the ACC if the league wasn’t getting some results of note in last season’s bowls. Handicappers will get a good read from the games Clemson and Georgia Tech play with Notre Dame. That will help you assess where the full league stands in the big picture.
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We step away from football for a couple of important series previews in baseball. Then, our summer series of college football conference previews will transition into the start of our NFL divisional previews before your very eyes. Here’s what’s ahead this week in the NOTEBOOK…
Monday: MLB Series Preview…Chicago Cubs at Pittsburgh
Tuesday: MLB Series Preview…Kansas City at Detroit
Wednesday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 North
Thursday: College Football Preview…Pac 12 South
Friday: College Football Preview…Big 12
Next Weekend: NFC North Preview to get you ready for the Hall of Fame Game (Vikings vs. Steelers)
July is in the rearview mirror…and September will be here before you know it. Keep winning those DOLLARS OF AUGUST with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK so your profits can pyramid all year long!
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