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ACC Football: Which Team Should be the Favorite to win the Coastal Division in 2022?

Tyler Van Dyke, Miami Hurricanes Football

The ACC's Coastal Division isn't short on unpredictability or chaos in most college football seasons. The 2022 season is likely to be another challenging year to predict in the Coastal, as Pitt must replace star quarterback Kenny Pickett, Miami is transitioning to a new coach in Mario Cristobal, three teams in the division (Duke, Virginia Tech and Virginia) all changed coaches, while Georgia Tech brings back just five starters. North Carolina was the preseason favorite last year, but coach Mack Brown's program must replace Sam Howell and fix a porous defense.

Even though Pitt lost Pickett, should the Panthers be the pick atop the division in '22? Or should Miami under Cristobal take a big step forward and return to the conference title game? Could a wild-card team emerge out of this division? Athlon editors and college football contributors debate which team should be the favorite in the ACC Coastal this season:

ACC Football: Which Team Should be the Favorite to win the Coastal Division in 2022?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
This is a tough call, especially with receiver Jordan Addison likely to depart Pitt as a transfer instead of returning to the Steel City for another year. Assuming Addison does leave, I don't think we should dismiss the Panthers from winning the division. Whichever quarterback (Kedon Slovis or Nick Patti) wins the job to replace first-round pick Kenny Pickett returns a deep backfield, all five starters on the offensive line, and one of the ACC's top defenses. Also, the receiving corps returns capable options in Jared Wayne and Konata Mumpfield, along with tight end Gavin Bartholomew. Regardless of what happens with Addison, I think I would give a slight edge to Miami under new coach Mario Cristobal. Last season, the Hurricanes started 2-4 and had to overcome an injury to starting quarterback D'Eriq King. However, the emergence of Tyler Van Dyke allowed Miami to win five out of its last six games to finish second in the Coastal Division last season. Van Dyke should thrive under new coordinator Josh Gattis, and the 'Canes have the makings of one of the ACC's top backfields and potentially offensive lines. Bigger concerns remain on defense, but new coordinator Kevin Steele should be able to address some of last year's issues. Although Miami gets Florida State and Clemson in crossover play (compared to Louisville and Syracuse for Pitt), the Nov. 26 home date against the Panthers might decide which team wins the Coastal.

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Miami didn't open up the checkbook to Mario Cristobal (and a star-studded staff of assistants) just for him to win the ACC Coastal, but the Hurricanes have to start somewhere. The native son has bigger aspirations but Year 1 should be all about setting up an extended reign in the division, and it just so happens he has the pieces to try and do that. With Kenny Pickett now in the NFL, Tyler Van Dyke can lay claim to being the best QB in the Coastal (although Brennan Armstrong has a case too) and he has plenty of help around him. The defense could be a work in progress, but there are pieces to work with there and again, Cristobal has built a staff that should help both sides of the ball succeed.

Pitt is the defending champion but no Pickett and no Jordan Addison takes a lot of bite out of the Panthers' offense, while Armstrong and the Cavaliers have plenty of questions on defense (and a suspect offensive line protecting him). North Carolina also lost an NFL-caliber QB and had other holes to begin with Virginia Tech and Duke are similar to Miami in that they are breaking in a new head coach but neither the Hokies nor Blue Devils have the same level of talent on their respective rosters. And Georgia Tech is still looking for an identity under Geoff Collins in the Yellow Jackets' post-triple option era. Put it all together and it should be quite the homecoming for Cristobal down in Coral Gables, as the Canes finally earn a spot in the ACC Championship Game.

Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Mario Cristobal won’t turn Miami into a national contender right away, but he should help elevate the Hurricanes to Coastal favorites in Year 1. However, much of the reason why The U should finish on top predates Cristobal. Tyler Van Dyke was electric in his debut as a redshirt freshman and should take a leap in his first full season as a starter after leading the SEC with 9.0 yards per attempt. Van Dyke will also get two new weapons through the transfer portal in Henry Parrish and Frank Ladson Jr. Miami does have the tough draw of Clemson in crossover play but gets Florida State, Pittsburgh, and North Carolina at home. Other Coastal contenders like Pitt, UNC, and Virginia Tech have turnover at quarterback — although Kedon Slovis was a big addition for the Panthers — and Virginia doesn’t have the defense to keep up with the Canes.

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Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
It has to be Miami, right? The upgrade from Manny Diaz to Mario Cristobal at the coaching position is good for at least a couple more wins. Also, the Hurricanes have one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC with Tyler Van Dyke. Last year, Van Dyke threw for 2,931 yards and 25 touchdowns as the Hurricanes finished 6-3 in his starts. Just imagine what he can do in an entire season under center.

The talent coming back to Coral Gables is good enough to win the Coastal this season with Jaylan Knighton, Frank Ladson Jr., and Will Mallory. Not only that, the Hurricanes have arguably the best coaching staff in the conference with Kevin Steele as defensive coordinator, Josh Gattis as offensive coordinator, and even Pro Football Hall of Famer Jason Taylor helping out. If Miami doesn't win the ACC Coastal this year, something has gone terribly wrong in Cristobal's first year. Since returning to Miami, Cristobal has been on a honeymoon, but that would end quickly if Miami doesn't win at least nine games in 2022. 

Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Since the ACC went to divisions and implemented a title game in 2005, Miami has managed to win the Coastal just once. On paper, however, 2022 should be the Hurricanes' year to claim the division. Miami won five of its last six games in 2021 and a big reason for that was the emergence of quarterback Tyler Van Dyke. Van Dyke returns and with the hiring of head coach Mario Cristobal, optimism is as high as it has been in Coral Gables in a long time.

Miami's biggest challenger in the division might be Virginia. The Cavaliers return quarterback Brennan Armstrong, get the Hurricanes at home, and beat Miami in South Florida last season. Duke and Georgia Tech are coming off three-win campaigns. North Carolina and Pitt are replacing Sam Howell and Kenny Pickett, respectively, at quarterback. Virginia Tech will be under a first-year head coach in Brent Pry. It appears that the Coastal division will be Miami's to lose, but that's been said in many preseasons before.

Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
I am going with Miami. New Hurricanes head coach Mario Cristobal has a star in quarterback Tyler Van Dyke and Ole Miss transfer running back Henry Parrish along with Jaylan Knighton should have room to run behind an offensive line featuring potential first-round pick Zion Nelson. Cornerback Tyrique Stevenson headlines a defense whose five returning starters will be bolstered by transfers from West Virginia and UCLA. Pitt will once again be in contention, but the Panthers don't know if they're getting the 2019 Kedon Slovis or the 2021 version and the departure of offensive coordinator Mark Whipple as well as the expected transfer of star receiver Jordan Addison gives the slight edge to Miami.

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