The Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division has long been the butt of many jokes, due mostly to recency bias and a lack of Clemson or Florida State— both winners of national championships this decade.
Since 2013, Syracuse’s first year in the conference (and conveniently, one rotation around each intradivisional opponent, PLEASE KILL DIVISIONS AND GO TO PODS), the numbers might surprise you:
|Team||Wins||Losses||Points For||Points Allowed|
|Team||Wins||Losses||Points For||Points Allowed|
On the whole, the “superior” Atlantic Division has won 43 games, lost 41, and outscored Coastal opposition by roughly 1.9 points per game— hardly the dominance the national media (and specific fanbases, hence compiling Atlantic teams’ records, and not Coastal) would want you to believe.
The further back you go, the more balance one finds. Its almost as if one division is top-heavy and the other is balanced! Whereas the Coastal has had six different division champions in these six years, that checks out. And whereas the Atlantic has won each of the six ACC title games over that span, that still checks out!
In 2019, I’m willing to admit that this narrative may take on a new meaning, because hoo boy the Coastal’s cup overrunneth with trash.
Long my favorite measure of team quality, S&P+ did not like the Coastal in 2018. Division champ Pitt ranks a nice 69th, behind Miami (25th), Virginia (37th), Duke (55th), Virginia Tech (66th), and ahead of Georgia Tech (82nd), and Carolina (95th). A mean ranking of 51st, and a median of 66th is more AAC East than Power-5 division.
Guess what? The Atlantic was worse! With a mean of 56th and a median of 64th, they were dragged down by down seasons from Florida State (84th) and Louisville (107th). For balance, the Atlantic has Clemson (2nd), State (31st), Syracuse (36th), Wake (64th), and Boston College (70th).
The Pac-12 South, from what I can tell, brings up the rear in this measure at mean 59th/median 67th, but it was a down year for the ACC as a whole— don’t put that evil on the Coastal.
2019? A different story.
When teams perform badly, coaches get fired. Larry Fedora departs UNC after two seasons where Carolina averaged a ranking of around 100. One would think that’s set to improve.
With the retirements of Miami’s Mark Richt and Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, those programs both represent unknowns. Miami will maintain some continuity defensively with Manny Diaz, but stands to lose as many as 9 of its top 10 tacklers. Their answer at quarterback may come in the form of a grad transfer, but his help— running back Travis Homer, receiver Lawrence Cager, and more— will be gone.
Tech is in a complete overhaul situation, as Geoff Collins will attempt to modernize the Yellow Jackets’ offense out of triple option personnel. There has been plenty written and said about what type of lineman works for a standard offense, and the Jackets don’t have it yet. I’m willing to write them off completely for next season, though I think Collins is a tremendous hire long-term.
Duke loses “top-10 pick” Daniel Jones, its top 4 receivers, and at least Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris from a solid defense— pinning their upside at higher than six wins seems a fool’s errand.
The safest bets? They both reside in the Commonwealth of Virginia*.
* This assumes some kind of steading influence at Virginia Tech, whose troubled 2018 offseason led to a ton of attrition and a hunch that there are cracks in the foundation in Hokieburg. Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of folks.
The Hokies’ youth movement on defense should pay dividends in 2019, as a unit that ranked 81st in S&P+ should return most of its players with more experience. They’ll have a quarterback battle on their hands, and maybe the choice between Ryan Willis and Josh Jackson will fracture the Hokies further.
So, bear with me here: your most likely ACC Coastal Champion in 2019, as it stands right now, is...Virginia? By the end of the season, their defense was legitimately salty, shutting out South Carolina in the Belk Bowl. Stud corner Bryce Hall has announced that he’s returning, and should be joined by Jordan Mack and Charles Snowden, who batted down about 13 Nathan Elliott passes when the Heels visited Charlottesville. Bryce Perkins and Joe Reed stabilize an offense that loses Jordan Ellis and Olamide Zaccheaus, among others, and that might be enough.
On balance, its tough to see Georgia Tech, Duke, or Miami improving too much.
Pitt’s magical jaunt through the Coastal seemed to be built on smoke and mirrors— their 6-2 record was buoyed by three single-digit wins. For the season, they outscored their opponents by a total of 10 points.
Carolina and the Virginias are poised for rebounds or improvement— Carolina’s two-year regression may be too much of a hill to climb in one year under Mack Brown. Virginia Tech may have the most upside in the league, but still has plenty of questions to answer— they were two plays away from going 3-8 instead of 6-7. Given Bronco Mendenhall’s history, Virginia’s upside may be limited, but we’ll probably see the height of it in 2019.
Here are the conference opponents for the 2019 Coastal:
Duke: H: Georgia Tech, Miami, Pitt, Syracuse; A: Carolina, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest
Georgia Tech: H: N.C. State, Carolina, Pitt, Virginia Tech; A: Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia
Miami: H: Georgia Tech, Louisville, Virginia, Virginia Tech; A: Duke, Florida St, Carolina, Pitt
North Carolina: H: Clemson, Duke, Miami, Virginia; A: Georgia Tech, N.C. State, Pitt, Virginia Tech
Pitt: H: Boston College, Miami, Carolina, Virginia; A: Duke, Georgia Tech, Syracuse, Virginia Tech
Virginia: H: Duke, Florida St., Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech; A: Louisville, Miami, Carolina, Pitt
Virginia Tech: H: Duke, Carolina, Pitt, Wake Forest; A: Boston College, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia
Who do you see taking home the Coastal crown and getting pummeled by Clemson in Charlotte next December?