ACC Coastal needs to close the gap

Published 5:03 pm Monday, September 4, 2017

Last week I made my prediction on the order of finish for the ACC’s Atlantic Division. While this is the ‘glamour group’ with Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, and NC State, we have to wonder how wide is the competition gap in the league’s other division.

Meanwhile, in the Coastal Division, while there are no Seminole or Tiger-beaters in this bunch, it does set up my next bold prediction: Miami will face Florida State in the 2017 ACC Championship game.

Running through the Coastal:

I love you Michael (The Playmaker) Irvin, but “The U” isn’t all the way back – yet! The ‘Canes return 14 starters this fall, and junior tailback Mark Walton’s play (1,117 yards/14 TD’s in 2016) will be key. Add one of the league’s best front seven’s on defense and once Coach Mark Richt decides if it’ll be N’Kosi Perry or Malik Rosier at quarterback, and if they then can take down Florida State (Sept. 16 in Tallahassee), then maybe their legacy alums can say the Pelican Crew has reclaimed its once-great glory.

Like Miami (actually, I believe it’s every team in this Division!), until Virginia Tech settles on a quarterback, can I really say the Hokies have reached ‘breakout time’. Coach Justin Fuente boasts one of the country’s best defenses, but I just don’t think things are going to come as easily on offense in 2017 – between the quarterback and the skill position turnover – making another 10-win season seem like a stretch. Virginia Tech could definitely still win the division again, but this group won’t be as electric as some are expecting.

I was torn between Pitt or Georgia Tech for the 3-spot, but settled on the Yellow Jackets. They’ll learn something about themselves early as they open and close the regular season with SEC teams (Tennessee and Georgia, respectively). Again, Coach Paul Johnson – czar of the ground-game, thanks to a strong offensive line and running back Dedrick Mills – must find a quarterback; and their defense can’t allow them to get into a lot of shoot-out games.

I stuck the Panthers in at number-four. Pitt’s schedule should allow for coach Pat Narduzzi’s team to hang around in the title picture. They don’t have to play Louisville, Clemson or Florida State – the top three teams from the Atlantic; but this team is not without question marks. Pitt has a transfer (Max Browne) stepping in at quarterback, and the defense surrendered 35.2 points per game last fall. Forget the schedule; this team is going to take some lumps this year.

My beloved Tar Heels are the toughest team to predict. I could place them anywhere from third to sixth. UNC has a lot of new faces to blend into the offense this season, but the defense returns six starters. In addition to all that roster turnover, Carolina plays at State this year and catches Louisville right out the gate in crossover play next weekend. The Heels also have road trips to Georgia Tech and Pitt – two key swing games. That leaves a lot of question marks, but maybe some positive answers.

Duke and Virginia will round out the division. I’m giving the Blue Devils the edge at sixth because, with this whole quarterback-strapped bunch, having David Cutcliffe – a quarterback guru – as your head coach, for whomever is under center, is a huge advantage. As usual, Duke will certainly be fun to watch.

The Wahoos certainly didn’t need earlier incidents in Charlottesville this summer to thrust them into the spotlight. But I’ve admired the way Coach Bronco Mendenhall has rallied his team, and the bonding they’ve shown in the meantime. Who knows, that could be a rally-point.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.