Everybody’s good; nobody’s real good
Last week I gave my predictions for the 2018 ACC Football season with summations for the teams in the Atlantic Division. Now it’s time to delve into the Coastal and see how cloudy the crystal ball has become.
The thing that most caught my eye while writing this year’s batch of ACC previews is that almost every single team in this division has AP Top-40 potential; potential being the operative word. However, when you consider that could apply to every team, I’m talking every single team in the SEC, and make that the Top-30 in the country, maybe praising the ACC’s potential is not saying too much.
But we’re also talking a league that holds the record for the most schools to play in bowl games in one season (11).
Mark Richt put an exclamation point on his rebuild of Miami football in his second season. The Hurricanes not only won the Coastal, they played in the school’s first ACC Championship game. The 2018 Canes should be even better. They led the conference in interceptions, sacks, and, of course, turnovers forced. That means that cheap, gawdy turnover chain will be back, and it’ll probably get a lot more TV time. The Hurricanes are my pick to repeat as division champs.
Virginia Tech won last year largely on its defense. OK, but Coach Justin Fuente’s offense did not score enough points to beat either Miami or Georgia Tech in 2017. The Hokies do return dual-threat quarterback Josh Jackson and an experienced offensive line. But will that be enough to knock out Miami? Nah.
Georgia Tech also returns its quarterback, and after firing alum and ex-Duke head coach Ted Roof (who hooked on at NC State). The Ramblin’ Wreck went with former Appalachian State’s Nate Woody. Look for the Yellow Jackets-D to have a lot more ‘sting’ this fall. This is also a team that will keep the ball for long stretches of a game and be difficult to outscore.
Duke or Pitt? Who’s fourth-best? The Panthers played almost like a top-25 team over their last couple of games when this year’s starting QB, Kenny Duckett, took over. Duke was legitimately good down the stretch, too (and, unlike Pitt, for more than two games). The Devils return most of its hard-hitting, somewhat underrated defense and with versatile quarterback Daniel Jones moving the chains with his arm or with his feet, this Blue Devil team could make some noise. As for Pitt, if the Panthers can just find a way to sneak past UNC, a team they’ve never been able to beat since joining the ACC, that alone might be good enough for fifth place.
Carolina? The Tar Heels look good at running back with Ohio State transfer Antonio Williams cleared to play this fall by the NCAA, and All-ACC prospect Anthony Ratliff-Williams ranks as one of the league’s top playmakers as both a wide receiver and a kick returner. Seven starters return for the Heels on defense and lots of others got playing time last year in the face of a rash of injuries. UNC desperately needs to go at least 6-6 and get a bowl bid. With openers against Cal, ECU, UCF and Pitt, UNC needs to go 2-2 or even 3-1. Otherwise their remaining ACC schedule may again keep them home for the postseason.
Where does that leave the bottom-dweller: the Wahoos are the ones down there; yes, Virginia, ‘tis you. Bronco Mendenhall probably needs another year – and some strong recruiting – to build the depth to sustain UVA’s early-2017 level when they started fast but faded. Still, this team could get to six, maybe even seven, wins.
Thing is, there’s so much potential in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, that the second best Coastal team – Virginia Tech – is only sixth best overall (behind NC State, Florida State, Louisville, and Boston College). I even hedged on putting the Hokies ahead of Wake Forest.
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.