The ACC Coastal has been wide open this decade. Six of the seven teams in the division have claimed the Coastal crown and made it to the ACC Championship Game, and the one team that has yet to do it is the media favorite to win the division this year.
Virginia (yes, you read that right) was picked to win the ACC Coastal title by the media two weeks ago. The Cavaliers have showed steady improvement under Bronco Mendenhall since he first became the coach in 2016, and others are jumping on the bandwagon of the team with arguably the second-best quarterback in the conference and a very strong defense.
Oddsmakers have Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) at right around the same price to win the division as the Wahoos, and if they stumble, it’s likely to be one of those two teams that carries the banner. These are the two traditional powers of the division, but both teams are undergoing fundamental changes.
The team that emerges on top of the ACC Coastal will try to break a streak of disappointing performances in the ACC Championship Game. The ACC Coastal representative has lost eight straight conference title games, and four of those losses were by 28 points or more.
ACC Coastal Win Total Best Bet
North Carolina Under 5 (-125, 5Dimes) – In a move to reclaim past glory, the Tar Heels hired Mack Brown this offseason. Brown last coached North Carolina in 1997, leaving to take the job at Texas.
Since Brown’s departure, the Tar Heels have won 10 games in a season just once (2015), but this move isn’t going to get them back to the mountaintop. Brown has not been involved in coaching since 2013, and although supporters will point to Herm Edwards’ surprisingly decent 2018 campaign at Arizona State, the Tar Heels have won 5 games in the last two seasons and there are major problems on both sides of the ball.
This defense has been one of the worst units in college football during this decade. I like the hire of Jay Bateman, but it’s hard to call for a lot of improvement in the first year after such disappointing performances over the last few seasons.
The offense is set to take a major step back too. Former coach Larry Fedora could always get the offense to score points, but that’s going to be a very difficult task in 2019. There is set to be a freshman quarterback, and three underclassmen are expected to start along the offensive line.
That’s not what you want to see with a relatively tough out of conference slate and no easy games until the penultimate regular season tilt with Mercer. North Carolina is not projected to be favored in a game until October, and I don’t trust the Tar Heels to figure it out.
Duke Over 5.5 (-110, 5Dimes) – I am going against my colleague Adam Burke here, as he projects the Blue Devils to win 4.84 games.
David Cutcliffe has won 6 or more games in six of his last seven seasons. Duke lost Daniel Jones to the NFL, but the next level loved him a lot more than college football fans did and Cutcliffe has shown an ability to mold anyone into a decent quarterback.
Enter Quentin Harris. Harris saw a significant amount of playing time last season, and as a fifth-year senior, he knows Cutcliffe’s offense. His legs will be able to open up the field so he can move the ball through the air and the offense shouldn’t miss a beat with him under center.
The defense will be much improved too. Nine starters return from 2018, and the secondary could be one of the best in the country. First-team All-ACC Mark Gilbert returns after a season-ending injury sidelined him last September, and Tony Davis is a promising young freshman.
It’s not great to have non-conference games against Alabama and Notre Dame, but I have confidence Duke will pick off North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee State and win the four games they need to win in conference to get to six wins.
Virginia Tech Under 8 (+120, 5D/BOL) – On paper, this should be a team that wins 8 or more games. Virginia Tech returns 10 starters on a Bud Foster defense, and Ryan Willis had a solid season after taking over for an injured Josh Jackson.
There’s something amiss in Blacksburg though. The good feelings that we heard about between Justin Fuente and Bud Foster have seemingly evaporated and a number of talented players have transferred out of Virginia Tech.
The Hokies won just six games last season, and there were some puzzling losses. Virginia Tech lost to lowly Old Dominion as a 28.5-point favorite, and they gave up 42.5 PPG in a four-game stretch against Georgia Tech, Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Miami (FL), all teams that had middling offenses or worse in 2018.
Road games against Notre Dame, Miami, and Virginia will be tough, and there are other stumbling blocks for the Hokies along the way. Virginia Tech had real red zone issues last season, finishing 84th in the nation in finishing drives and kicker Brian Johnson was 3-9 from 40 yards or longer.
Miami (FL) Under 8.5 (+125, 5Dimes) – There are a ton of questions for the Hurricanes in Manny Diaz’s first season on the job. Diaz became the coach just two days after Mark Richt suddenly retired (and two weeks after Diaz agreed to be Temple’s head coach), and he’s had a busy offseason. In addition to setting up a new staff, he brought in a ton of new players, making the most of the NCAA’s transfer policy.
Tate Martell is the likely quarterback as N’Kosi Perry continues to have accuracy problems. Martell was a highly routed recruit out of high school, but he left Ohio State due to a lack of playing time. With a new offensive coordinator entering the mix in Dan Enos and just four starters returning on offense, how this unit fares is one of the biggest mysteries entering the season.
Diaz is a sharp defensive mind, and Miami had one of the best defenses in the nation under his watch. The Hurricanes were 4th in total defense and had the best passing defense in the land, but there are a few concerns in the back and up front. Four potential starters transferred in, and it will take some time for the ‘Canes to realize what they have with the new talent.
The Hurricanes are likely to start the year 0-1, but they will have some time to gel with a relatively easy September. Still, the number of major questions has me worried, so I’ll take the under.
Virginia Over 7.5 (-130, 5D/BOL) – The media is right to be bullish on the Cavaliers. We have seen this team get progressively better under Mendenhall, and they have a good chance to have their best season in a long time in 2019.
This defense is nasty. Virginia was ranked inside the top 20 in total defense last season, and seven starters return to that unit. The linebackers are the strength, and the secondary received a huge boost when Bryce Hall decided to eschew the NFL for one more year.
Bryce Perkins was surprisingly good last season. He was one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country, and he accounted for over 3,600 yards of offense. He loses his top receiver, but the Cavaliers’ next two leading receivers are back, and he could average more than 300 total yards per game this season.
Although a road trip to Notre Dame is on the docket, this is a pretty favorable schedule. Virginia should not have any issues in its other three non-conference games, and their stretch run is as soft as you like it. Their last four opponents before the Commonwealth Cup are all likely to finish the season under .500.
Georgia Tech Under 4 (-150, Bet Online) – It’s going to take a long time for Geoff Collins to rebuild Georgia Tech, but the administration seems to know the magnitude of the project at hand. Switching from the triple option to a modern offense takes at least two years, so everything is going to be about progress in a true Year Zero situation.
Expect Collins to use a LOT of young players. A number of upperclassmen accustomed to the option transferred out with the writing on the wall, and although Collins didn’t come out and say he will be using primarily freshman and sophomores, it’s very likely that happens.
Only seven starters return from last season, and there is no experienced traditional quarterback on the roster. Tobias Oliver is the projected starter, but he is accustomed to running the triple, and he only threw the ball 16 times last season compared to 152 runs.
Georgia Tech is going to get blasted in its opener against Clemson, and a tough non-conference slate will probably leave the Yellow Jackets as the worst team in the conference.
Pittsburgh Over 6 (-110, Bet Online) – How many people can honestly figure out Pitt? The Panthers are continually one of the most puzzling teams in the country, and they look certain to hold that mantle once more in 2019. Bill Connelly’s S&P+ Ratings have Pittsburgh with a win probability between 30 and 70 percent for 10 of its 12 games (and all of its conference games).
The Panthers do have a promising quarterback in Kenny Pickett, but Pat Narduzzi didn’t seem to trust him last season. Pickett ran the ball far too often, yet things should open up with Mark Whipple calling the shots on offense. Whipple threw the ball all over the place at Massachusetts, and I believe Pickett will have nice numbers in 2019.
Two 1,000-yard running backs leave Pitt, but the Panthers have never had a problem replacing talented runners, and I don’t expect them too now. The issues on defense are another story though. There just isn’t much talent on the roster, and although Narduzzi has a good defensive mind, this will be a challenge.
There are enough toss-up games that I’ll call for Pitt to go over, but it’s hard to say that with a measure of confidence