The ACC’s Coastal Division is likely to feature another tight battle for the top spot in 2017. Miami is still looking for its first appearance in the conference championship game, and the Hurricanes will likely have to go through Virginia Tech to claim the division title this fall. The Hokies are the defending Coastal champs and will lean on a standout defense until the right pieces fall into place on offense.
The 2017 season is still a few months away, but it’s never too early to analyze the upcoming year. Athlon’s editors and writers will debate some of college football’s top offseason questions until the release of its top 25 in May.
Miami or Virginia Tech: Which Team Wins the Coastal in 2017?
Adam Kurkjian (@AdamKurkjian), AthlonSports.com contributor
Not to put my faith in something that has never been done before, but mark me down as a believer that the Hurricanes will finally break through and win the Coastal Division for the first time since entering the ACC. Both Virginia Tech and Miami lose their starting quarterbacks, but Mark Walton should have a big year at running back and the 'Canes should have one of the best front sevens in the conference, if not the nation. So long as Miami figures out its quarterback situation soon enough, it can get the job done. Oh, and the head-to-head matchup between these two is in Miami Gardens this season.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven), Athlon Sports
A familiar word surrounds the Coastal Division this spring: Uncertainty. On paper, Miami and Virginia Tech seem to have the best shot at winning the division. However, Georgia Tech and Pitt shouldn’t be overlooked.
In the Miami versus Virginia Tech debate, I would give a slight nod to the Hurricanes – but not by much. Both teams are among the ACC’s best on defense and feature a new starter at quarterback. Adding to the intrigue at quarterback is the two coaches. Mark Richt and Justin Fuente have a good track record of identifying and developing signal-callers. How quickly will it take for both programs to find their new No. 1 quarterback? The team that is able to address that position and find a clear answer earlier in the year has a huge advantage in this battle. Miami has an edge in proven skill players with the return of running back Mark Walton and rising star Ahmmon Richards anchoring a promising group of receivers. Additionally, the game is in Coral Gables this season, which is likely to decide the winner of the Coastal Division title.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley), AthlonSports.com contributor
Both Miami and Virginia Tech will enter the 2017 season with brand-new starting quarterbacks under center.
The Hurricanes are still trying to find their guy as Malik Rosier, Jack Allison and Evan Shirreffs have all taken snaps under center this spring. Miami head coach Mark Richt has stated that he won't name a starting quarterback until true freshman N'Kosi Perry enrolls, likely in May.
Miami's front seven could be one of the nation's best in 2017. The Hurricanes will return a number of starters on a defense that finished 22nd in the country in sacks with 2.85 per game. With the losses in Miami's secondary (Corn Elder, Rayshawn Jenkins), this unit will need to rely on the first level to create havoc to make the back end’s job easier.
The good news for Virginia Tech is the Hokies will return at least 20 players who started at least one in 2016. The bad news is, they will still need to replace starters in some key positions.
It appears sophomore Josh Jackson has the edge at starting at quarterback. Not only will Virginia Tech need to replace record-setter Jerod Evans’ production as a passer (3,546 yards, 29 TD), they also will need to replace his production on the ground as the No. 1 rusher.
Virginia Tech also lost receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges to the NFL. With Cam Phillips likely moving to the outside, the Hokies will need to find another receiver to compliment him.
In 2016, the Hokies finished 18th in total defense and they will return a number of players from their line that finished the season with 32 sacks a season ago.
As of right now, Miami is the better team on paper as there's a chance that Virginia Tech might not even finish second in the Coastal in 2017. The Hurricanes also have the easier schedule and they will host the Hokies on Nov. 4.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne), AthlonSports.com contributor
Brad Kaaya is gone, but every team in the Coastal outside of Duke will have a new quarterback in 2017. The Hurricanes have playmakers in RB Mark Walton and WR Ahmmon Richards returning. The defense loses some important pieces, but youngsters like Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney will build on Miami's late-season success. The pieces are in place for the Hurricanes to finally break through in the Coastal.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR), Athlon Sports
As good as Brad Kaaya was for Miami, there’s no disputing the impact Jerod Evans had on Virginia Tech’s offense last season. Now both quarterbacks are gone, leaving big shoes to fill. How the respective replacements fare could have a big say in the success each of these teams enjoy this fall. In fact, it could end up determining the Coastal division.
Even though neither team has settled on their starter yet, I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Justin Fuente. The Hokies’ head man had an impressive debut, going 10-4 and concluding the season with a Belk Bowl victory, and let’s not forget that Evans was in Blacksburg for just one season. I’m not saying whoever ends up the starter will replicate Evans’ record-setting numbers, but I do think Virginia Tech will get enough plays out of him to repeat as Coastal champs, with some help from the running game and Bud Foster’s defense.