Early Saturday afternoon, fellow SB Nation blog Tomahawk Nation tweeted, "and Miami looks like a lock for the Coastal Division with VTech down 14-0." Of course, the Hokies came back and completely ruined State fans' afternoons, while Miami had their own problems with Clemson, narrowly escaping with a win. Even so, my perspective hasn't changed any from my immediate response:
@TomahawkNation No one's getting out of the Coastal without at least two losses.
I figured I'd expand on that. The four contending teams in the Coastal (sorry Duke and Virginia) all look just like they did at the start of the season – good teams all equally flawed in their own way. I don't see any of them running the table nor collapsing and falling out of contention before late November. Which isn't to say the Atlantic is any stronger, just that I'm more familiar with this crop of teams. Let's look at them individually.
Miami (3-1, 1-0 in the ACC) is the prohibitive favorite at the moment, by virtue of only having one loss – and a quality one at that – and being undefeated in conference. And they're a strong team, with a good defensive line and a pass rush that gives them the best pass defense in the conference. But all of that is obscured the glare of media lights focused on Jacory Harris. Harris has an incredible arm, but little control over it; his eight interceptions is second in the ACC only to Duke's Sean Renfree. He's going to cost the Hurricanes' games that way, and the running game and defense aren't strong enough to bail him out. Who they'll lose to: UNC and Virginia Tech have the best secondaries. Maryland's an outside possibility if the Canes lose focus.
Virginia Tech (3-2, 2-0 in the ACC) was of course the team that started with the highest expectations and had the most precipitous fall. They've won three straight, including blanking Boston College and storming back against N.C. State. They've also got the easiest schedule going forward, with only Wake Forest left in the Atlantic and two road games remaining. If anyone's going to prove me wrong it's the Hokies. But VT has lost Ryan Williams for the season, and the offensive line is porous enough to let even someone of Tyrod Taylor's quickness get sacked 11 times. Who they'll lose to: The back-to-back matchup of Georgia Tech and UNC will be tough, especially if the Heels have a fully functioning defensive line by November.
Georgia Tech (3-2, 2-1 in the ACC) is close to playing themselves out of contention already, having been blown out by N.C. State and barely escaped Wake Forest. They have absolutely no passing offense to speak of, and the rushing game looks a good bit weaker than usual, unless the team across from them is in powder blue. Their schedule's a bit lighter down the stretch, but they won't run the table. Who they'll lose to: Miami's almost a lock, and Clemson's pretty likely.
And finally, there's North Carolina (2-2, 0-1 in the ACC). Depleted on defense, and a running game that hasn't shown the consistency we'd like. Most observers have already written them off, but T.J. Yates currently has the highest completion rate and second-highest pass efficiency in the conference, something no one would have guessed back in August. As more players return, UNC will continue to improve. Unfortunately, the schedule ahead is brutal. Who they'll lose to: UNC could conceivably run the table in the rest of the Coastal and still finish fourth in the division – they have to face FSU, Clemson and State from the Atlantic. FSU and State are the likely two to do the Heels in, and you can't write off Virginia, as Charlottesville has been the hill UNC can't quite climb.
Mark my words, come the ACC Championship game, all four of these teams will have two conference losses to their name. It's going to be an interesting fall.