CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 01: Giovani Bernard #26 of the North Carolina Tar Heels breaks away from Miles Williams #2 of the Elon Phoenix to score a touchdown during play at Kenan Stadium on September 1, 2012 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
There will be scoring in the Coastal Division this season.
10 ACC teams went into action yesterday, with Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech playing tonight. The four Coastal teams averaged 48 points, ranging from Miami's 41 to UNC's 62. None of the defenses they faced we're particularly great; Carolina and Virginia faced FCS opponents while Florida International and Boston College are both expected to be basement-dwellers in their respective conferences. Still, there were a lot of points put on the board, considering last season the same four teams averaged less than 32 points against similar opening day competition. Miami and Duke gained 415 and 420 yards, respectively, while UNC and UVa surpassed them, with 524 and 545 yards.
The flip side of this coin was the defenses, however. Yes, the Tar Heels shut out hapless Elon. But the others struggled. Duke and Miami actually gave up more yards to their opponents, both of whom topped the 500-yard mark. Virginia gave up 19 points to FCS Richmond. Boston College averaged under 300 yards of offense last season, yet put up 542 against the Hurricanes. And the Eagles haven't improved offensively that much.
My first impression of the Coastal Division is this. Every team will be scoring early and often, but the team with the best defense is going to win. Virginia, Miami, and Duke are obviously lacking in this regard; the jury is still out on UNC's new system. Georgia Tech's defense has traditionally struggled during Paul Johnson's tenure, at least when they aren't playing UNC, but the preseason murmurs
have them being at least somewhat improved. Virginia Tech, of course, returns nine starters from last year's Top 10 defense, and has an offense that can compete with the rest of the division. They are, after all, the preseason favorite.
I mention this in part to point out the contrast with the Atlantic Division. The top half acquitted themselves quite well. FSU rolled over their FCS opponent by a margin slightly better than UNC, while Clemson beat Auburn and State fell to Tennessee. But the bottom half? Boston College has the Coastal tendency of big offense and no defense, but Wake Forest and Maryland were both awful. The Terps needed a fourth-quarter rally to beat William & Mary 7-6 in a game where freshman quarterback Perry Hills
threw three interceptions. Wake similarly needed a late surge to top Liberty 20-17; the Demon Deacons floundered on both sides of the ball. Things are looking very good for the first ACC matchup of the Larry Fedora era next week.
All of this leaves one final key to the Coastal Division race — who teams play out of the Atlantic. Here Georgia Tech and Carolina have the advantage. The Yellow Jackets avoid both FSU and State, while UNC has it even better, missing FSU and Clemson. It's ironic that the Tar Heels' best chance of finishing above the Hokies (who play FSU and Clemson) might come in the season they're ineligible for the ACC championship game.