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ACC Football: Which Team is the Favorite to Win the Coastal Division for 2020?

Sam Howell, North Carolina Tar Heels Football

Sam Howell, North Carolina Tar Heels Football

The ACC Coastal is one of college football’s toughest and most unpredictable divisions on a yearly basis. With Virginia winning the 2019 division title, all seven teams have made an appearance in the conference championship game over the last seven years. The 2020 race is shaping up to be unpredictable once again. The Cavaliers must replace star quarterback Bryce Perkins but return one of the ACC’s top defenses. North Carolina and Virginia Tech are on the rise, and the arrival of a handful of transfers, including quarterback D’Eriq King, should help Miami improve in coach Manny Diaz’s second year. Pitt is also a contender behind a strong defense and senior quarterback Kenny Pickett.

ACC Football: Which Team is the Favorite to Win the Coastal Division for 2020?

Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)

I think five teams – Miami, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Virginia and Pitt – have a realistic shot at the Coastal Division title in 2020. After all, this is a division that just produced seven different champions in seven years. The final order of finish is likely to be very tight, with teams locked at 6-2/5-3 at the top. For now, I’d give a slight edge to the Tar Heels over the Hokies. Coach Mack Brown’s squad was a much-improved team behind quarterback Sam Howell and a dynamic offense and all of the team’s six losses came by seven points or less. Howell should be even better as a sophomore and returns one of the ACC’s top supporting casts. North Carolina’s defense took a step forward under coordinator Jay Bateman last year, and while some new faces must emerge up front, the linebacker and defensive back units should be strong. Additionally, the Tar Heels host Virginia Tech on Oct. 10 in a crucial matchup that could decide the winner of the Coastal.  

Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)

For several years now, the Coastal has been one of the most competitive divisions in the FBS. That's not likely to change this season, but if I had to peg a favorite at this point, I'll go with North Carolina. The Tar Heels return 17 starters, 10 of those on offense. With Sam Howell at quarterback and a talented corps of skill position players, UNC should have not just one of the ACC's top offenses, but one of the most explosive attacks in the country. Virginia Tech returns more starters (19), but the Hokies are entering the post-Bud Foster era on defense and seem to have a few more questions on offense compared to the Heels. The same goes for both Virginia, the defending division champs, and Miami, who will be leaning on Houston transfer D'Eriq King to fix the Hurricanes' offensive issues.

Mack Brown has done an impressive job in turning around things in Chapel Hill in short order and with a tough non-conference schedule (at UCF, vs. Auburn in Atlanta, host James Madison) the Heels should be ready by the time ACC play starts. And with road games against the Cavaliers and Canes and a visit by the Hokies all falling in October, they better be if they want to make my prediction look good.

Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)

North Carolina is a logical pick to win the ACC Coastal with a high-powered offense and last year's six losses coming by a combined 26 points, but I'll take Miami. With the graduate transfer arrivals of D'Eriq King and Quincy Roche, I'm not sure any team in the ACC has this high of an upside. Miami finished second in the ACC in scoring and total defense, and Roche will join Gregory Rousseau to form the top pass-rushing duo in the nation. That should help make up for the loss of linebackers Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney. Meanwhile, King should bring much-needed life to the Canes' offense as the program's best quarterback since Brad Kaaya or even Ken Dorsey. New offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee could also help unlock talented skill position players, including former top recruit Jeremiah Payton.

Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)

As much as I want to give Miami the nod this year with the addition of D'Eriq King at QB, I feel I have been burned by preseason Miami hype enough times to know better. I'll lean toward Mack Brown and his Tar Heels as the team to watch. With Sam Howell continuing to grow, UNC could be a dangerous squad in the fall.

Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)

Although they have a tough non-conference schedule with Auburn, UCF and James Madison on the slate, the Tar Heels should win 10 games in the ACC in 2020. They will host Virginia Tech, probably their biggest competitor for the ACC Coastal and Pitt, another challenger. Miami is perhaps the biggest wild card because no one truly knows how good they will be with D'Eriq King under center.

What we do know is San Howell, next to Trevor Lawrence, is the most talented returning quarterback in the ACC, and the Tar Heels should field a potent offense. Chazz Surratt also returns to lead North Carolina's defense as he looks to have a tremendous senior season. Mack Brown is building something special in Chapel Hill, and that could them to an appearance in Charlotte in the ACC title game.

Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)

As usual, the ACC Coastal appears to be a wide-open race. North Carolina is deservedly getting a lot of buzz based on last year’s progress, as well as the return of Sam Howell and most of his top offensive weapons. Virginia Tech ranks among the most experienced teams in the country, particularly on defense, and will be a contender as well. However, I think Miami should be the preseason favorite.

The Hurricanes welcome one of the most exciting quarterbacks in college football in D'Eriq King, and though transfer quarterbacks don't always work out, last year's results at Ohio State and Oklahoma give me reason to be optimistic. Plus, the addition of Rhett Lashlee as offensive coordinator, and pass rusher Quincy Roche from Temple, are changes for the good.

Miami also plays North Carolina at home and is a 4.5-point favorite in my early game projections. On that note, the Hurricanes are favored in 11 of 12 regular-season games, with the only exception being a trip to Blacksburg where the Canes would be underdogs of less than a half of a point. Tallying up the win projections, I expect Miami to win 8.67 games on average, including 5.3 in conference play — both higher than the Tar Heels or Hokies.

Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)

Pittsburgh is going to have to improve a running game that was ranked 118th nationally and Kenny Pickett has to become a bit more than a game manager at quarterback. But he has some targets to throw to in Taysir Mack and Shocky Jacques-Louis. And then there's the defense, which is perfectly built for head coach Pat Narduzzi's preferred style. The secondary is strong with Damar Hamlin and Paris Ford patrolling the field, though the front four will be what makes the Panthers tick. Jalen Twyman inside with Patrick Jones and Deslin Alexandre on the edge give Pitt one of the best defensive lines in America. Anything can happen in the crazy Coastal, but my pick is Pittsburgh because of their suffocating D.

Matt Josephs (@MidMajorMatt)

The ACC Coastal will be a lot of fun with pretty much everyone outside of Duke and Georgia Tech having a shot. I don't give Pittsburgh much of a chance either unless they improve on offense. I know the Miami fans won't be happy with this, but their defense needs work and I don't think they jump into being offensive juggernauts right away so they are out. Virginia Tech will be in the mix if the defense can overcome the retirement of legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster. To me, this comes down to the winner of the Oct. 3 game in Charlottesville as Virginia hosts North Carolina. The Tar Heels bring in Sam Howell under center and a talented roster while the Cavaliers bringing in Mississippi State graduate transfer quarterback Keytaon Thompson answers a massive question. Give me the Cavaliers who will be tested early with games against Georgia and Clemson.