In five of the first seven years that the ACC Championship game was held, the Virginia Tech Hokies were the ACC-Coastal representative, and since 2005 and the start of the game, no other team has won the division except for Virginia Tech or Georgia Tech. Last year, however, the Hokies went a dismal 7-6 and the door is wide open for a new team to win the Coastal. Here is my preview of the ACC-Coastal division in 2013.
1. Virginia Tech Hokies
Although Miami is the preseason favorite to get to the conference title game in Charlotte, it is hard to pick against the Hokies. For starters, they return nine of eleven starters on a defense that was already at the top of the Coastal a season ago. Defensive backs Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller were some of the best in the conference last year, and defensive lineman James Gayle and Derrick Hopkins could make this defense one of the nation’s best. Quarterback Logan Thomas returns for his senior season, and this could be good or bad for the team, as he led the Hokies to BCS as a sophomore but looked inconsistent and indecisive as a junior. Virginia Tech will also need to find consistency in their running game, where they ranked an uncharacteristic 81st in 2012. Despite all of this, I expect the Hokies to bounce back and win the Coastal in 2013.
2. Miami Hurricanes
The 2013 Miami Hurricanes football squad enter the year with very high expectations on their shoulders, as they should with a conference-best 20 returning starters. Of these, sophomore running back Duke Johnson, who had a breakout freshman year with 947 yards and 10 TD’s on just 139 attempts last year, returns and could be the ACC’s most productive offensive weapon. At quarterback, Stephen Morris returns for his senior campaign, and if he improves on 2012 (3345 yards, 21 TD’s), then Miami could very easily win the Coastal. On defense for the Canes, well, it can’t get much worse than 2012, can it? In 2012, despite having a fairly easy schedule, allowed more than thirty points a game and the pass defense was atrocious. Look for the Canes 2013 defense to improve after returning so many starters, but I still do not expect Miami to take the Coastal.
3. North Carolina Tar Heels
The North Carolina 2013 campaign could be one that surprises a lot of people. Quarterback Bryn Renner is coming back for his senior season, and he will have a chance to prove himself Week 1 against South Carolina. Renner’s touchdown to interception ratio last year (28 to 7) was among the best in the ACC, and expect that to continue in 2013. 2012 running back Giovanni Bernard, who rushed for 1200 yards, is gone and so is their second leading rusher A.J. Blue, and Tar Heels will have to find a replacement. Receivers Quinshad Davis and Sean Tapley and tight end Eric Ebron will be reliable targets for Renner, but in the end the season will all come down to the defense. The D returns nine starters, but that is only to a squad that allowed 25 points a game a season ago, and defensive backs such as Tre Boston will have to step in order for the defense to perform the way it has the potential to.
4. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
In 2013, the Yellow Jackets once again will field their unique option offense, and it will be led by sophomore quarterback Vad Lee, who as a freshman shined in the playing time he received. Also on the Jackets offense returns backs Zach Laskey and David Sims, who together had over 1300 yards in 2012. Look for senior running back Synjyn Days to also receive more playing time this year, and the depth the Jackets have at the position should help their success. Georgia Tech will have to find ways to involve defensive playmakers such as linebacker Jabari-Hunt Days and defensive back Jamal Golden to have success in 2013. I don’t expect the Yellow Jackets to win the Coastal, but crazier things have happened in the division.
5. Duke Blue Devils
In 2012, Duke surprised a lot of people and qualified for a bowl game, but I don’t expect the same thing to happen in 2013. The Blue Devils do have offensive playmakers such as quarterback Anthony Boone and running backs Jela Duncan and Josh Snead returning, but the defense was dead last in the Coastal last season and will need fixing. And it will not be easy, as only five starters return. Don’t expect anything better than 5th in the ACC-Coastal for Duke.
6. Pittsburgh Panthers
The Pittsburgh could be the ACC-Coastal’s wildcard team in 2013. It will be their inaugural year in the conference, but if you remember correctly they beat Virginia Tech and took Notre Dame to triple-overtime in 2012. The only problem for the team is that they are losing almost everything on offense, including starting quarterback Tino Sunseri, top rushers Ray Graham and Rushel Shell, and top receiver Mike Shanahan. Defense will be the strong suit of the Panthers, as they return nine starters to a squad that was 21st in the country last year. Pittsburgh could have a breakout season, but with all of their losses it would be improbable.
7. Virginia Cavaliers
And finally, the Virginia Cavaliers. Junior quarterback David Watford is back for the team, but after passing for 346 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in the playing time he got last year, it could mean a disastrous year for the Cavs. Virginia do have running back Kevin Parks and receiver Darius Jennings to be proud of, but the defense will be average at best. They return seven starters a defense that allowed 28 points a game in 2012, and the Cavs need serious improvement to get back on the winning track.