With just over a month remaining in college football’s 2016 regular season, conference title races are starting to clear and the frontrunners have emerged after nine weeks of action. In the ACC, Clemson is a clear favorite to win the Atlantic and seems to be on a path to a 12-0 mark before the conference title game in Orlando. However, there is less certainty on the Coastal side. This division has been unpredictable in recent years, but two teams – North Carolina and Virginia Tech – have emerged as the frontrunners heading into November. Both teams are 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league play going into Week 10, and the Hokies and Tar Heels have favorable stretches to close out the season.
As the final stretch run of the 2016 season approaches, Athlon Sports is taking a look at some of the key races to watch in conference play. With the Coastal Division up for grabs, Athlon Sports’ panel of experts debates whether Virginia Tech or North Carolina will play in Orlando for the ACC Championship this December.
North Carolina or Virginia Tech: Which Team Wins the Coastal?
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
Because of its win over North Carolina in the slop on October 8th, Virginia Tech gets the tie-breaker between the two teams and has to be considered the favorite to win the ACC Coastal. The remaining ACC schedules for the two teams are rather similar with both Carolina and Tech playing two of their final three conference games at home. Georgia Tech and Duke show up on each schedule with the Heels ending the season with N.C. State and the Hokies facing Virginia. So there is little advantage for either team in that department, which is bad for North Carolina considering they need the Hokies to lose. Also, offensively the teams are relatively even statistically and Virginia Tech holds the edge on defense. So with so much being similar, Virginia Tech’s win in Chapel Hill gives them the edge.
Adam Kurkjian (@AdamKurkjian)
As North Carolina and Virginia Tech head into the ACC Coastal stretch run neck and neck in a race to Orlando, you can't help but feeling that the major hurdles have already been cleared by both teams.
And, if that's the case, you should be looking at Justin Fuente taking the Hokies to the conference championship in his first year in Blacksburg.
With both teams stuck on one loss, Virginia Tech holds the tiebreaker by virtue of its 34-3 domination of the Tar Heels on Oct. 8.
A quick peak at the two schedules reveals neither team should be an underdog the rest of the way. Sure, there could be an upset on either side, as Virginia Tech's loss to Syracuse shows the Hokies are far from invincible.
But the likely scenario is Virginia Tech winning out in ACC play and facing Clemson on the first weekend of December.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Virginia Tech’s win over Pitt on Thursday night essentially means the Coastal Division is a two-team race. Of course, a surprise collapse by both teams could open it up again, but all signs point to the Hokies or Tar Heels representing the Coastal in the ACC Championship in Orlando. With both teams at 6-2 overall and 4-1 in league play, it’s unlikely this division will be decided before Nov. 26. That’s largely due to the schedules, as neither team is likely to lose the rest of the way. Virginia Tech takes on Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia to finish 2016, while North Carolina gets Georgia Tech, Duke and NC State.
At this point, I think it would take an upset loss for Virginia Tech to lose the Coastal. The Hokies are in great shape to win the division thanks to their win over North Carolina on Oct. 8. First-year coach Justin Fuente and quarterback Jerod Evans have helped to ignite the offense, while coordinator Bud Foster has the defense performing at a high level. Assuming Virginia Tech wins the Coastal, don’t be surprised if this team gives Clemson all it can handle. The Hokies are a dangerous team on both sides of the ball, and Fuente clearly has this program trending up.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMark)
Oh how North Carolina would like a mulligan for Oct. 8. The conditions caused by Hurricane Matthew were far from ideal, but it’s not like Virginia Tech beat the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill by just a few points that day. The bottom line is I think that game will be what ends up determining the ACC Coastal division.
Both teams still have four games left, but North Carolina has the easier schedule (on paper) compared to Virginia Tech because the Tar Heels have a game with a FCS team (The Citadel) still on tap while the Hokies have to go South Bend to face Notre Dame. The games that really count, however, are the remaining ACC matchups, and both teams still have to play Duke and Georgia Tech, while North Carolina finishes with NC State and Virginia Tech hosts Virginia.
I don’t see the Blue Devils being an issue for either team and the same goes for the Cavaliers against the Hokies. The Yellow Jackets could pose problems because of their ability to run the ball, but I have more faith in Virginia Tech’s defense compared to the Tar Heels. In the end, it’s easier for me to see North Carolina stubbing its toe once (or maybe even twice) rather than the Hokies ceding first place. The two teams may end up with the same record in ACC play, but Virginia Tech will play in Orlando on Dec. 3 for the conference championship by virtue of that rain-soaked win in early October.