Is Miami ready to reclaim the Coastal under new head coach Manny Diaz?
If there's one word that can be used to describe the ACC Coastal Division it would be parity. Six different teams have won the division in the past six seasons. Virginia is the only team from the Coastal that has not played in the ACC Championship Game during this span.
That could change this year, however, as once again the Coastal appears to be wide open. For starters, three teams (Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina) have new head coaches. Defending division champion Pittsburgh is replacing a pair of 1,000-yard rushers. Duke is breaking in a new starting quarterback and both Virginia and Virginia Tech are tasked with replacing key pieces on offense.
Chances are you can comb through every preseason publication or poll that's posted online and won't find much consensus when it comes to projecting how the ACC Coastal standings will shake out this fall. But in the end, there's only one spot that really matters — which team finishes in first.
So with that in mind, we asked Athlon editors and contributors which team they think will emerge from the pack and earn the right to play in Charlotte on Dec. 7 for a shot at the ACC title.
Which Team Should be the Favorite in the ACC Coastal in 2019?
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Other than Georgia Tech and North Carolina, which both are starting over under new head coaches, you could basically make an argument for every team to win the Coastal. Between Duke, Miami, Pitt, Virginia and Virginia Tech each team has its share of question marks but some stick out more than others.
Along those lines, I think both the Blue Devils and Panthers are going to take slight steps backward because of some of the personnel losses. The Hurricanes have talent but will be led by a new head coach and I think the offense will struggle to find consistency.
That leaves the two Virginia schools. The Hokies have had the Cavaliers' number for a while now (15 wins in a row) and Virginia Tech catches enough breaks in the ACC slate (read: no Clemson, Syracuse, NC State or Florida State) that I'll say Justin Fuente and company bounce back from a disappointing 2018 campaign by reclaiming the Coastal.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech seem to be a step ahead of the rest of the division, but I like the Hokies to win the Coastal in 2019. After struggling to stop the run and giving up too many big plays on the ground last fall, it’s hard to see Bud Foster’s defense performing that way in 2019. And even if the youth on defense might have a few ups and downs throughout the year, there’s more than enough ability on offense to make up the difference. Quarterback Ryan Willis should challenge for All-ACC honors, and his supporting cast is solid at receiver and up front on the offensive line. Road trips to Miami and Virginia won’t be easy, but I think coach Justin Fuente will find the right answers for this team and return Virginia Tech to Charlotte to play for the ACC title in December.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
Every time I think I have this division figured out, I quickly realize there is no predicting the ACC Coastal. In what I suppose will be another wide-open season in the division, I look to Manny Diaz to light the spark necessary to elevate Miami to the top of the Coastal by the slimmest of margins, and possibly with the help of some tiebreakers. Getting Virginia Tech, Virginia, and Georgia Tech all at home over a three-week span will be the key for Miami taking the division.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
I will take the Virginia Cavaliers as they appear to be making strides under head coach Bronco Mendenhall. After winning just two games in Mendenhall’s first season in 2016, Virginia increased that total to six in ’17 and eight in '18. Now the next step is for the Cavaliers to win the ACC Coastal Division.
Virginia has playmaking quarterback Bryce Perkins returning in 2019. In his first year under center for the Cavaliers, Perkins accounted for 277.2 total yards per game and 34 total touchdowns.
The Cavaliers also have a number of defensive players returning to a unit that finished third in the ACC in points allowed per game, including cornerback Bryce Hall. The schedule plays well into their favor as they host Duke, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Also, Virginia doesn't play Clemson or Syracuse from the Atlantic side of the ACC.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
Picking a winner in the ACC Coastal might be done best by assigning teams a number and rolling a die. Three of the seven teams in the division are making a coaching change and no one in the division won more than eight total games a season ago.
The Cavaliers weren’t able to win the division but did win more games than anyone else in the Coastal with eight. Bryce Perkins is a dynamic player at the quarterback position but is losing his top rusher and receiver as well as a stellar offensive lineman in RJ Proctor. Pittsburgh, the reigning division champion, is replacing not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers from a season ago.
With Georgia Tech completely revamping its offense and Virginia Tech, Duke and North Carolina all having questions at quarterback, the favorite in the division may be Miami. After starting last season in the top 10, the Hurricanes finished just a disappointing 7-6, but there is hope with former defensive coordinator Manny Diaz now running the show.
Tate Martell and N’Kosi Perry are likely to battle it out at quarterback while Deejay Dallas is a talented running back. The Hurricanes still have a very good defensive front seven with Jonathan Garvin, Shaquille Quarterman and Michael Pinckney leading the way.
Kyle Kensing (@kensing45)
Each Power 5 conference with divisions seems to have one that's especially chaotic. In the Big Ten, it's the West. The SEC has the East (though Georgia's resurgence under Kirby Smart is changing that). And the ACC has the Coastal, arguably the most unpredictable of the lot. For evidence supporting that assertion, look no further than Pitt — PITTT! — representing the division in the conference championship game a season ago.
The Coastal will once again be up for grabs. Could Miami in Year 1 under Manny Diaz win it? How about dependable Virginia Tech? Those picks feel too predictable. How about Virginia? The Cavaliers have overachieved under head coach Bronco Mendenhall, and the next step may be winning the Coastal. Assuming Bryce Perkins returns at full strength from finger surgery, Virginia has a talented, dual-threat quarterback running the offense. Joey Blount and Charles Snowden are back on defense. Maybe I'm letting March Madness influence me too heavily, what with making this pick in the springtime, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Virginia take that significant step.
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
Defending division champ Pittsburgh loses two 1,000-yard rushers. Miami has a new head coach and the same quarterback concerns. Duke must make do without quarterback Daniel Jones. Mack Brown's Tar Heels have miles to go before contending. A whole new offensive system is being implemented at Georgia Tech. And there is one team that Virginia can't beat.
For those reasons, my pick to win the Coastal is Virginia Tech. Ryan Willis will give the Hokies competent quarterback play and he will have two dangerous targets to throw to in Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner. Defensively, Tech returns everyone except rugged interior presence Ricky Walker and Bud Foster's unit should be particularly strong at linebacker with Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield.
The Hokies do face difficult road tests at Miami and Virginia. But their natural crossover rival Boston College may take a step back and their other Atlantic game is home vs. Wake Forest. Virginia Tech has enough pieces returning and the proper schedule to win the Coastal in 2019.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
There is no clear-cut favorite in the ACC Coastal, and for good reason given the parity across the division in recent years. Each team in the division also has at least one major question mark.
Defending champion Pitt lost more than 2,300 yards of rushing production and must also replace several key defensive starters. Miami is arguably the most talented team in the division, but the Hurricanes are led by a first-time, first-year head coach and must navigate through a three-headed quarterback competition. North Carolina and Georgia Tech are also undergoing coaching transitions. Typically unheralded Duke lost a potential first-round NFL draft pick at quarterback as well as two of the best linebackers in the league.
That leaves Virginia and Virginia Tech. The Cavaliers have one of the top playmakers in the conference in quarterback Bryce Perkins, but head coach Bronco Mendenhall must replace last year’s leading rusher (Jordan Ellis), receiver (Olamide Zaccheaus), tackler (Juan Thornhill) and leader in both sacks and tackles for a loss (Chris Peace).
Meanwhile, the Hokies have made headlines this offseason for the high number of players choosing to leave Blacksburg via transfer, but Virginia Tech is in a better position in terms of returning production than most realize. Justin Fuente is set to welcome back 82.58 percent of the passing yardage, 66.3 percent of rushing yardage, 69.61 percent of receiving yardage, and 87.53 percent of tackles from 2018 — no other Coastal team returns more than 60 percent in all four categories, and only 13 other FBS programs are as fortunate.
Perhaps most importantly, the Hokies also miss cross-division rivals Clemson, Syracuse, Florida State and NC State — arguably the top four teams in the Atlantic — on this year’s conference slate.
With its veteran head coach, an experienced roster, and a manageable schedule, Virginia Tech should be the favorite to win the ACC Coastal.