ACC preview: Breaking down the wide-open Coastal Division


With soccer conferences now allowed to eschew divisions within the identify of a “everlasting rivals, closely rotated schedules and the highest two groups within the convention championship recreation” period, the last word parity of the ACC Coastal division may quickly be a factor of the previous.

General, this shift is welcome: The heavy rotations imply large conferences will truly really feel like conferencesNorth Carolina and Wake Forest will not have to rearrange a nonconference recreation simply to see one another once more — and placing the 2 finest groups within the convention title recreation makes plenty of sense for Faculty Soccer Playoff stakes. Plus, it was all the time unfair that some applications randomly landed within the Florida State– and Clemson-dominated Atlantic division whereas friends of comparable stature had an opportunity to win within the less-top-heavy Coastal.

Nonetheless, one can not say that the Coastal has lacked appeal. All seven groups received a title between 2013 and 2019, a fully excellent show of parity. It’s considered one of a form, and hey, it is not lifeless but. Defending champ Pittsburgh is changing essential items, Miami stays a thriller, and SP+ tasks 5 groups inside 1.8 common wins atop the division. Issues may get bizarre as soon as once more.

Let’s preview the ACC Coastal!

Each week by means of the offseason, Invoice Connelly will preview one other division from the Group of 5 and Energy 5 completely for ESPN+, in the end together with all 131 FBS groups. The previews will embrace 2021 breakdowns, 2022 previews and burning questions for every group.

Earlier previews: MWC West | MWC Mountain | AAC (Nos. 6-11) | AAC (Nos. 1-5) | MAC East | MAC West | Sun Belt West | Sun Belt East | Conference USA (Nos. 6-11) | Conference USA (No. 1-5) | Independents | Pac-12 South | Pac-12 North | ACC Atlantic

2021 recap

The 2021 marketing campaign featured surprises however lacked drama. Pitt was voted fourth within the preseason, however thanks to a different stellar protection and a breakout senior yr by quarterback Kenny Pickett (third within the Heisman voting), Pat Narduzzi’s Panthers received the division by two video games and got here inside seven factors of an unbeaten common season.

The three projected favorites — North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech — all disenchanted, going a mixed 19-19 general. UNC, voted into the preseason prime 10 for the primary time since 1997, fell sufferer to dreadful protection and inconsistent offense. Miami could not depend on its protection to purchase time whereas freshman quarterback Tyler Van Dyke discovered his footing. Virginia Tech’s protection could not choose up the slack for an offense that topped 30 factors solely 3 times.

Miami and Tech fired head coaches Manny Diaz and Justin Fuente, respectively, and UNC head coach Mack Brown employed a brand new defensive coordinator. The theme continued additional down within the standings: Virginia‘s Bronco Mendenhall and Duke‘s David Cutcliffe each are gone after irritating seasons, whereas Georgia Tech head coach Geoff Collins made main employees modifications to purchase himself one other yr.

2022 projections

Pitt has completed within the defensive SP+ prime 30 for 3 straight seasons and must be at that customary once more with a great deal of expertise at the back and front. However the Panthers leaped from 86th to ninth on offense final season thanks largely to Pickett (now with the Pittsburgh Steelers), Biletnikoff-winning receiver Jordan Addison (now at USC) and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple (now at Nebraska).

The Panthers are almost assured to regress offensively. Will that allow another person again within the race? In that case, who will or not it’s?

Burning questions

Can Pitt substitute Kenny Pickett and Jordan Addison? There’s so much to love about Pitt heading into 2022. Ninety-nine % of final yr’s offensive line snaps and 96% of carries are again. There’s tons of senior management on each strains, plus star energy from defensive finish Habakkuk Baldonado, defensive sort out Calijah Kancey and left sort out Carter Warren. There is a robust backbone of center linebacker SirVocea Dennis and safeties Erick Hallett and Brandon Hill.

After establishing themselves as a perpetual 7-6 group by means of Narduzzi’s first seven seasons, the Panthers mixed expertise with sudden elite play from Pickett and Addison. The tradition and defensive depth stay, however Pickett and Addison are clearly large losses. Narduzzi introduced in USC switch Kedon Slovis to battle Nick Patti for the beginning quarterback job; Slovis was one of many nation’s higher quarterbacks as a freshman in 2019 however slipped to 74th in Complete QBR final yr.

A receiving corps by committee will attempt to assist new coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. account for the 100 catches, 1,593 yards and 17 touchdowns that Addison takes to USC. No. 2 receiver Jared Wayne returns, and younger gamers tight finish Gavin Bartholomew and slot man Jaylon Barden confirmed potential in small roles. Transfers Konata Mumpfield (751 yards at Akron final season) and Bub Means (19.6 yards per catch as a Louisiana Tech freshman) may very well be requested to make large contributions shortly. With backs Vincent Davis, Israel Abanikanda and Rodney Hammond Jr. all operating behind a superb line, Slovis may have a robust run recreation to lean on when requested. However the passing recreation is what made Pitt a special group final yr. We’ll see if there’s just a little drop-off or so much.

If Pitt is not the favourite, is it Miami? North Carolina? Issues may have turned out very otherwise for Miami final season. Star quarterback D’Eriq King rushed again from a 2020 knee damage, however he struggled, then was misplaced for the season to a shoulder damage three video games in. Van Dyke beat out blue-chip freshman Jake Garcia for the beginning job, however Miami misplaced a few tight video games whereas he was getting his footing. From Oct. 23 onward, Miami went 5-1 and Van Dyke ranked fifth nationally in Complete QBR, however the injury from a 2-4 begin doomed Diaz. And it may benefit new head coach Mario Cristobal and offensive coordinator Josh Gattis, who moved south from Michigan.

Van Dyke, slot man Xavier Restrepo and tight finish Will Mallory may kind the parts of a robust passing recreation, although we’ll see if Cristobal, who favors the bodily recreation, has what he desires in backs Jaylan Knighton and Henry Parrish Jr. (through Ole Miss) and a fairly younger line. However after final yr’s protection cratered — the Canes fell from ninth in defensive SP+ in 2019 to 51st — Cristobal dipped closely into the switch portal. As many as six transfers may probably begin for coordinator Kevin Steele, together with tackles Akheem Mesidor (West Virginia) and Antonio Moultrie (UAB), linebacker Mitchell Agude (UCLA) and nook Daryl Porter Jr. (WVU). There is a lot of change right here, however there’s plenty of confirmed expertise, too. We’ll see if the latter trumps the previous.

In the meantime, final yr was unquestionably a missed alternative for Mack Brown’s Tar Heels. The protection fell aside, and the offensive line could not shield star quarterback Sam Howell towards disruptive opponents. (Howell additionally continuously scrambled into stress.) As they try a rebound, they’ve two main inquiries to reply:

1. Does the offense nonetheless have what coordinator Phil Longo wants? Howell was a spectacular tone-setter for the second Mack Brown period, however now it is as much as both Jacolby Criswell or Drake Maye to take the Heels to a different stage. Whoever wins the beginning job will inherit one of the vital thrilling receivers in faculty soccer. Josh Downs went for 101 catches and 1,335 yards out of the slot, and batterymates Antoine Green, Kamari Morales and Justin Olson additionally return. However a sketchy line should substitute three starters, and 1,000-yard rusher Ty Chandler is gone, too. This offense should preserve a excessive stage with a number of new items.

2. Was Gene Chizik the best choose? Final season’s defensive collapse, from 53rd to one hundred and first in defensive SP+, was caused partly by youth and damage. Nineteen gamers recorded at the very least 200 snaps, and 15 return, together with high-level disruptors in sort out Myles Murphy and nook Tony Grimes. That ought to all however guarantee a sure stage of enchancment.

However on the coordinator stage, Brown repeated considered one of his tendencies from the tip of his Texas period. When a younger coordinator (on this case, Jay Bateman) failed him, Brown changed him with an outdated good friend. The 60-year-old Chizik returns to teaching after 5 years as an SEC Community analyst. Per SP+, he hasn’t been a part of a top-40 protection since 2006, his final season as Brown’s coordinator at Texas. He has expertise and high quality recruiting rankings at his disposal. However is he the best man for the job?

Is Virginia’s damaged protection a short- or long-term repair? We got here to count on sure issues from a Bronco Mendenhall group over time. At BYU and Virginia, his defenses had been normally stellar: prime 50 in defensive SP+ 11 occasions between 2006 and ’18, prime 25 4 occasions. However the script flipped late in his UVA tenure. His Cavaliers ranked greater on offense than protection for every of his final three years, finally drifting to extremes of eighth in offensive SP+ and one hundredth in defensive SP+ final fall.

Longtime Dabo Swinney assistant Tony Elliott inherits an odd group. Quarterback Brennan Armstrong returns after an excellent season (4,449 passing yards, 449 non-sack dashing yards, 40 mixed touchdowns) and brings again his three main receivers in Keytaon Thompson, Billy Kemp IV and deep risk Dontayvion Wicks. However final yr’s prime six linemen are all gone — junior sort out Jonathan Leech is the one returnee who took greater than 20 snaps — as is effectivity again Wayne Taulapapa. Elliott needed to improvise a run-heavy assault final season at Clemson, as quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei misplaced the script a bit; in Charlottesville, Elliott and coordinator Des Kitchings will probably be coping with the precise reverse.

Defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, in the meantime, will probably be working with a unit that instantly appeared devoid of high-level expertise and should fill holes each at exterior linebacker and all through the secondary. Granted, he comes from Air Power, the place he turned a two-star two-deep right into a top-40 protection final season; it nonetheless may take him some time to get issues circled, nevertheless. If lower-level stars, comparable to ends Kameron Butler (Miami-Ohio) and Paul Akere (Columbia), can click on instantly, that will assist. Butler was top-of-the-line ends on the Group of 5 stage final season.

Does Virginia Tech have … sufficient expertise? In his final two full seasons in Blacksburg, former Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente signed courses ranked simply 62nd and forty fifth general. You possibly can nearly depend the variety of former four-star recruits on the roster with one hand. It appeared Fuente stopped signing many high-level recruits and struggled to carry on to those he had. The Hokies went simply 25-25 in his closing 4 seasons, nearly completely mediocre inside a wonderfully mediocre division, and he was proven the door. Former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry takes over and inherits a lumpy roster that had too many gamers in some positions and never almost sufficient in others.

Pry’s first Tech roster is not completely devoid of expertise or expertise. Dax Hollifield and Alan Tisdale headline what must be a superb linebacking corps — one thing Pry, a longtime linebackers coach, is aware of what to do with — and finish TyJuan Garbutt and safeties Chamarri Conner and Nasir Peoples may headline a strong cross protection.

On offense, transfers Grant Wells (Marshall) and Jason Brown (South Carolina and Saint Francis) are battling for the beginning quarterback job. And whereas the run recreation will lean on children, a few of these gamers — specifically sort out Parker Clements, guard Kaden Moore and operating again Malachi Thomas, all sophomores — have fairly high-end expertise. If Pry’s defensive prowess combines with an offense that may run the ball simply nicely sufficient to open up deep photographs for Wells (presumably) and receiver Kaleb Smith, there are many winnable video games on Tech’s schedule. However there are additionally a number of losable video games if neither unit is as much as snuff.

Will Geoff Collins’ Hail Mary work? Employed to exchange option-dependent Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech in 2019, Collins was all the time going to want a while to craft a extra trendy program. However three years in, he has a 9-25 document, and after leaping from 111th to seventy fifth in his second season, his Jackets stumbled again to 96th in 2021 and misplaced a majority of their most gifted gamers to both commencement or the switch portal. His fourth Tech group presently ranks 118th in my returning manufacturing rankings; solely 5 returnees took greater than 400 snaps in a Tech uniform final yr — three on offense and two on protection.

There’s simply as a lot turnover on employees, the place Collins introduced in six new assistants, together with former Notre Dame and Tulane offensive coordinator Chip Lengthy. Collins additionally dipped closely into the portal, specializing in the secondary (5 newcomers), offensive line (4) and talent corps (4) and bringing in a pair of quarterbacks — Akron’s Zach Gibson and Clemson’s Taisun Phommachanh — to battle Jeff Sims for the beginning job. By far probably the most confirmed switch is one from final yr: defensive finish Keion White, who recorded 19 tackles for loss in 2019 however missed 2021 due to an ankle damage.

This can be a entire lot of change. Collins had nearly no alternative however to provide it a shot after three seasons of failing to construct depth or a tradition of success. A Hail Mary nearly by no means works, and Georgia Tech’s schedule is brutal: It options 5 projected top-20 groups (three within the first 5 video games) and ranks because the seventh-hardest general in the meanwhile. Odds actually favor Tech bringing in a brand new coach for 2023, however big chemistry experiments work simply usually sufficient that the Yellow Jackets may very well be attention-grabbing to observe this season. For some time, at the very least.

Is the Duke job as arduous because it was 14 years in the past? One in all my go-to references for speaking about troublesome soccer jobs is the nice outdated “pushing the boulder up the hill.” You possibly can certainly get the boulder rolling, however the second your momentum slows, it will run you over and roll all the best way again to the underside. David Cutcliffe’s time at Duke is the last word living proof.

The 4 years earlier than Cutcliffe’s arrival (2004-07): 4-42 document (.087 win proportion), 106.0 common SP+ rating

Cutcliffe’s first 4 years (2008-11): 14-33 (.298), 88.8 common rating

Cutcliffe’s subsequent eight years (2012-19): 57-46 (.553), 62.5 common rating

Cutcliffe’s final two years (2020-21): 5-18 (.217), 109.0 common rating

After a 3-3 begin in 2021, the Blue Devils misplaced their final six video games by a median rating of 51-14. The boulder was all the best way on the backside of the hill once more.

Energy to Mike Elko for deciding he may get it rolling once more. The 44-year-old spent the previous 13 seasons as an FBS defensive coordinator, most lately at Texas A&M, and he’s evidently unafraid of a problem.

His first Duke group has a high-end slot receiver in Jalon Calhoun, veterans on the offensive line, strong pass-rushers in finish R.J. Oben, sort out DeWayne Carter and linebacker Shaka Heyward and … I am undecided what else. Coordinator Kevin Johns, a ramification offense outdated hand, will select between sophomores Riley Leonard and Jordan Moore at quarterback, and plenty of equally inexperienced gamers might want to step up all through the depth chart. Duke is a projected double-digit underdog in 9 video games. Overlook the win whole — if we catch a couple of glimpses of the subsequent first rate Duke group this fall, the season was a hit.

My 10 favourite gamers

QB Tyler Van Dyke, Miami. Throughout Miami’s 5-1 end, Van Dyke compiled a 66% completion charge, a median of 14 yards per completion and a 20-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio. Fairly a present for Cristobal to inherit.

QB Brennan Armstrong, Virginia. One other reward for an additional first-year coach. Armstrong threw for 300-plus yards in 10 of his 11 video games final season, and if — IF — his new line provides him time, his senior yr may very well be plenty of enjoyable.

SLOT Josh Downs, North Carolina. In his first yr as WR No. 1, he gained at the very least 70 yards 10 occasions and at the very least 120 5 occasions. He may be one of the best “take a brief cross a really good distance” participant in faculty soccer.

ATH Keytaon Thompson, Virginia. The final UVA employees simply listed Thompson as “Soccer Participant” on the depth chart. The previous quarterback averaged 12.7 yards per catch and 6.3 yards per rush, and it might be a disservice if the brand new employees does not use him in equally inventive methods.

RG DJ Scaife Jr., Miami. In line with Sports activities Data Options, the 314-pound senior from Miami blew three blocks all of final season. Three! Of 788!

DE Habakkuk Baldonado, Pitt. Pitt has turn out to be a dependable producer of pass-rushing expertise, and Baldonado grew to become the most recent star in 2021, collaborating in 18 tackles for loss, sacking the quarterback 9 occasions and forcing 15 incompletions.

DE Keion White, Georgia Tech. White’s 2019 season at Previous Dominion: 19 tackles for loss and 23 run stops. If he finds fifth gear once more after an damage yr, he may very well be a transformative presence up entrance for the Ramblin’ Wreck.

LB Dax Hollifield, Virginia Tech. Hollifield dedicated to play for legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster and can end his profession taking part in for Pry, a former Foster graduate assistant. He set profession information for TFLs and sacks final season and will do it once more beneath Pry.

LB Shaka Heyward, Duke. Heyward led the Blue Devils in tackles, tackles for loss and run stops. He was additionally their finest blitzer and finest linebacker in protection. No matter he is doing leaves a gap elsewhere within the Duke protection.

CB Tony Grimes, North Carolina. The previous blue-chipper reclassified and performed as an ultra-young freshman in 2020. As a freshman-aged sophomore in 2021, he broke up eight passes and allowed a 54.2 QBR towards most groups’ No. 1 receivers. With growing maturity, we may quickly see growing dominance.

Honorable point out: QB Kedon Slovis (Pitt), QB Grant Wells (Virginia Tech), SLOT Xavier Restrepo (Miami), WR Antoine Inexperienced (North Carolina), SLOT Jalon Calhoun (Duke), DE Kameron Butler (Virginia), DT Calijah Kancey (Pitt), LB SirVocea Dennis (Pitt), CB Tyrique Stevenson (Miami), CB Dorian Strong (Virginia Tech)


In 1952, 70 years in the past, Bobby Dodd and Georgia Tech peaked. In 1951, the Ramblin’ Wreck had jumped to 11-0-1 and fifth within the AP ballot. They adopted that up with perfection. The 1952 squad went 12-0, allowed solely two groups to remain inside 13 factors (Florida and Alabama) and claimed a share of the nationwide title with Michigan State. Dodd would engineer 4 extra top-10 finishes earlier than his retirement in 1966, however this system hasn’t loved one other excellent season since.

In 1982, 40 years in the past, Pitt began out No. 1. In an period dominated by blue bloods, Pitt emerged because the nation’s prime upstart. The Panthers got here out of nowhere to win the 1976 nationwide title, then loved 5 extra top-10 finishes within the subsequent six seasons. They went 11-1 in 1981, spending the final month of the common season at No. 1 earlier than a devastating blowout loss to Penn State eradicated their title hopes. However a season-ending Sugar Bowl win over Herschel Walker and Georgia, plus the return of stars comparable to quarterback Dan Marino and all-world linemen Jimbo Covert and Invoice Fralic, acquired the hype machine rolling once more for 1982.

Three September wins over ranked groups stored the hype shifting apace, however the Panthers collapsed late, shedding at residence to unranked Notre Dame and ending with losses to Penn State and SMU. They eked out a No. 10 end however have not completed within the prime 10 since.

In 1987, 35 years in the past, Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech transforming job started. The previous Virginia Tech cornerback had simply taken Murray State to the I-AA playoffs however got here again residence to assist information his program by means of a extreme scholarship hit stemming from his predecessor’s NCAA violations. He received simply 24 video games over his first six seasons in cost and did not set up any significantly excessive stage till 1993. However when the breakthrough started, it did not cease: The Hokies loved 16 ranked finishes from 1993 to 2011, together with shares of seven Massive East and ACC titles.

In 1997, 25 years in the past, Mack Brown led North Carolina to its finest season in 49 years. As with Beamer, Mack Brown constructed slowly after taking the UNC job in 1988; he went 2-20 in his first two seasons, the truth is, earlier than bettering the Heels’ win whole yearly from 1990 to 1993. A completely stocked UNC roster put collectively its finest back-to-back efficiency ever in 1996 and ’97, going 10-2 and ending tenth, then spending greater than half of 1997 within the prime 5, shedding solely to No. 3 Florida State and ending sixth. It stays this system’s second-best efficiency on document, behind solely Carl Snavely’s No. 3 end in 1948.

In 2002, 20 years in the past, Miami’s successful streak hit 34 video games. After successful 4 nationwide titles from 1983 to ’91, The U needed to battle by means of sanctions and scholarship restrictions. After Butch Davis took over in 1995, Miami settled into an eight-wins-a-year common over a five-year span.

This system’s second peak, nevertheless, started in 2000. The Canes went 11-1 and almost performed for the nationwide title, then ran away with the whole lot in 2001, going 12-0. They had been equally gifted in 2002 and received their first 12 video games by a median of 42-18. They hadn’t misplaced a recreation since early 2000. It appeared like Oklahoma’s document of 47 straight wins was inside attain. Alas …



On Jan. 3, 2003, Chris Gamble cannot catch an extra time TD, however Miami known as for cross interference. Ohio State received the nationwide championship in 2OT.

In 2007, 15 years in the past, Chris Long took over faculty soccer. Lengthy was so good, Virginia retired his quantity earlier than his faculty profession was even over. After leaping from two to 10 to 12 tackles for loss over his first three seasons, the eventual two-time Tremendous Bowl champion had top-of-the-line senior seasons you will ever see. He recorded 14 sacks amongst 19 tackles for loss and keyed a dominant Hoos protection. Regardless of a very mediocre offense, Al Groh’s Cavaliers went 9-4 and humiliated Miami within the Canes’ closing residence recreation on the Orange Bowl.

In 2012, 10 years in the past, Duke began a bowling streak. From 1961 to 2011, Duke bowled twice and spent elements of simply 4 seasons ranked. David Cutcliffe had taken over this system at a very low ebb and appeared caught in a rut 4 years in. However his 2012 Blue Devils group beat Virginia and North Carolina on the best way to a 6-2 begin and bowled for the primary time in 18 years. It grew to become a pattern. They received 10 video games and the ACC Coastal title in 2013 and ended up bowling six occasions in a seven-year span, a exceptional achievement on the ACC’s hardest job.

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