2018 ACC Coastal Preview

1. Miami Hurricanes– When this program is winning games and succeeding, it’s a great thing to see for the game of college football. Mark Richt has definitely instilled a confidence level within his locker room and the swagger came back to the U! They were able to claim the division title in 2017 and made a New Year’s Six bowl game where they fell short to Wisconsin. After last season’s success, the expectations will be high coming into this 2018 season and they have everything to make the playoffs. A solid core of talent returns from 2017 such as quarterback Malik Rosier (can he take that next step and elevate himself?), receivers Ahmmon Richards, Mike Harley, Jeff Thomas and Lawrence Cager all return and the running back position will be in good shape Travis Homer once again coming out the backfield. The defense is in relatively good shape for coordinator Manny Diaz, but the line has to retool in the middle after Kendrick Norton and RJ McIntosh declared early for the NFL. It could be another fun season for the green and orange this fall.

2. Virginia Tech Hokies– As of now, this will be the biggest threat to dethroning the Miami Hurricanes in the division. The offense averaged 28 points per game in 2017 and I see them taking a step forward in 2018 with Josh Jackson back for his sophomore season. As a redshirt freshman, Jackson threw for 2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 324 yards and six scores and he will only get better working under head coach Justin Fuente. Star receiver Cam Phillips is gone, but the receiving core features a few weapons with potential including Sean Savoy, Eric Kumah, Caleb Farley and Ball State transfer Damon Hazelton. At the running back position, Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples are a promising duo, but for them to be successful, the offensive line will have to replace guard Wyatt Teller and center Eric Gallo. When I look at their defense, they were one of the best defenses that you didn’t hear about as they limited offenses to 14 points a game and I expect them to rank near the top of the ACC once again. Replacing Tremaine Edmunds will be a challenge for Bud Foster. However, tackle Ricky Walker is one of the best linemen in the ACC, and the secondary still returns Adonis Alexander, Mook Reynolds, and Reggie Floyd.

3. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets– It was a down season for the Yellow Jackets in 2017 and since he took the job, Paul Johnson has only two losing seasons since 2008. With that in mind, I can see them bouncing back after a 5-6 record and a bowl game wouldn’t be far out of reach. Johnson’s flexbone attack returns quarterback TaQuon Marshall and running backs KirVonte Benson, Nathan Cottrell, and Qua Searcy. Top receiver Ricky Jeune will be missed, but the offensive line returns nearly intact with four starters back from 2017. The defense has been struggling over the last four seasons and to help improve that side of the football, they hired Nate Woody from Appalachian State as their new defensive coordinator and he will inherit a defense that loses many key contributors from last season. How fast this unit reloads will likely determine where Georgia Tech ends up in the Coastal Division.

4. Pittsburgh Panthers– They missed out on a bowl game for the first time since 2007. Pat Narduzzi’s team lost three games in 2017 by six points or less. A rebound back into the postseason should be a reasonable goal for this team in 2018. Kenny Pickett will be the team’s starting quarterback and he was impressive in the upset victory over Miami last November and now, he will enter the year with a full off-season of work under his belt. Darrin Hall and Qadree Ollison are back to the lead the backfield after this duo combined for 1,026 yards last year. Another issue is the offensive line that loses four starters from last season. The defense returns a good majority of last year’s unit and I expect them to take another step moving forward. Their non-conference schedule might be amongst the toughest in the nation with games against Penn State, UCF, and Notre Dame. Those three showdowns will tell us more about them and how their season will pan out.

5. Duke Blue Devils– They rebounded to a 7-6 record after a 4-8 mark in 2016 under David Cutcliffe. A bowl game this upcoming season isn’t far out of reach. However, their non-conference schedule is brutal with showdowns against Baylor, Northwestern and Army and in the conference, they have a showdown with the Clemson Tigers. The offense will be anchored by quarterback Daniel Jones once again, but the supporting cast features question marks. Top running back Shaun Wilson, left tackle Gabe Brandner, center Austin Davis and right tackle Evan Lisle is out of eligibility. Duke’s strongpoint was on defense and they quietly ranked third in the ACC in points allowed in 2017.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels– Heading into the 2017 season, many knew this would be a rebuilding year for the Tar Heels, but they struggled more than anticipated and right now, the big question is can Larry Fedora get this team back together and back to a bowl game in 2018? For that to happen, their offense needs to improve all around and average more than 19 points per game. In this conference, you must be able to score. Nathan Elliott and Chazz Surratt will battle for the starting quarterback job after both saw extensive playing time in 2017. Jordan Brown and Michael Carter should form a solid duo at running back, and Anthony Ratliff-Williams is a big-play threat on the outside. Let’s talk about this offensive line and how they will need to improve after losing four starters from last season. That’s one thing on Fedora’s priority list along with improving a defense that struggled to get off the field and gave up close to 32 points per game.

7. Virginia Cavaliers– The Cavaliers were clearly better in coach Bronco Mendenhall’s second season. After a 2-10 record in 2016, Virginia improved to 6-7 and earned a trip to the Military Bowl. But Mendenhall and his staff will be busy replacing some of the team’s biggest contributors from 2017. On offense, quarterback Kurt Benkert and receivers Doni Dowling and Andre Levrone have expired their eligibility. Who steps up to replace Benkert? Mendenhall’s offense does return top target Olamide Zaccheaus (85 catches) and running back Jordan Ellis (836 yards). The line also loses both starting tackles in Brandon Pertile and Jack English. The Cavaliers lose two All-America defenders in safety Quin Blanding and linebacker Micah Kiser from a defense that gave up 28.4 points a game in 2017. Cornerback Juan Thornhill and safety Brenton Nelson are two promising players to anchor the secondary in 2018, while linebacker Jordan Mack returns after collecting 114 stops last year.

Prediction: The Miami Hurricanes will be victorious once again and claim the ACC Coastal for the second consecutive season. Mark Richt and his football team started something special last year and I think they will try to pick up where they left off. They will need more consistency from Rosier under center. I expect to see a lot of the turnover chain again when the defense gets a takeaway. This is the class of the division right now and as I stated up top, the only team built to challenge them right now is Virginia Tech.