After highly competitive races the past two seasons, it’s no surprise that the ACC Coastal Division remains up for grabs again in 2014 as we hit the half-way mark of the season. The Blue Devils thrust themselves back into the discussion with an impressive road victory at Georgia Tech on Saturday, and will take aim at current division leader Virginia this weekend.
At the start of the season, Coach Cutcliffe joked that one could easily flip the preseason Coastal Division predictions and it ultimately may be more accurate. Thus far, his words have proven prophetic, as Virginia, picked last by the media, finds themselves in first place. Meanwhile, preseason favorite Miami finds itself in sixth place, just ahead of preseason #23 North Carolina.
Here’s a quick recap of where the Coastal Division stands after six games, and a quick look at what’s ahead.
1. Virginia (4-2, 2-0)
Undoubtedly one of the biggest surprises within the ACC so far this year, Virginia is off to a 2-0 conference start after victories at home over Louisville and Pittsburgh. While they rank in the middle of the ACC in scoring offense and defense, they have been particularly tough against the run, holding opponents to just 2.7 yards per carry and also leading the conference with 19 forced turnovers. The road for the Wahoos gets tough from here on out, as they are likely to be underdogs in at least 4 of their remaining 6 games.
Final 6: @ Duke, vs. UNC, @ GT, @ FSU, vs. Miami, @ VT
2. Georgia Tech (5-1, 2-1)
The Yellow Jackets appeared poised to take control of the Coastal race with consecutive wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, but fell to Duke at home last Saturday. Though they feature a formidable rushing offense, Ted Roof will need to shore up his defense for Georgia Tech to keep their division title hopes alive. The Ramblin’ Wreck is allowing opponents to average 5.4 yards per carry and complete over 45% on 3rd down. With 4 of their final 6 on the road, Paul Johnson will have to rally his troops in enemy territory.
Final 6: @ UNC, @ Pitt, vs. UVA, @ NCSU, vs. Clemson, @ UGA
3. Duke (5-1, 1-1)
The Blue Devils cruised through their nonconference slate before falling to a talented and motivated Miami team in their conference opener. An open date seemed to be just the fix for Coach Cutcliffe’s squad, as Duke returned to form in a win over Georgia Tech. A balanced offensive attack behind a strong offensive line, coupled with their bend-but-don’t-break defense, could be just enough for the Blue Devils to repeat as Coastal Division champions. Duke finishes with 4 of 6 games at home, including their final three.
Final 6: vs. UVA, @ Pitt, @ Syracuse, vs. VT, vs. UNC, vs. WF
4. Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-1)
After a week 2 victory at Ohio State, the Hokies looked like the class of the Coastal Division, but came crashing back to earth with consecutive home losses against ECU and Georgia Tech. When they’re at their best, Virginia Tech is dominant on 3rd down, converting nearly 50% and holding opponents to less than 25%. They remain in the red on their turnover margin for the season, and are still searching for offensive consistency with Michael Brewer under center. The Hokies have a favorable remaining schedule and could easily re-establish themselves as the team to beat in the Coastal.
Final 6: @ Pitt, vs. Miami, vs. BC, @ Duke, @ WF, vs. UVA
5. Pitt (3-3, 1-1)
After a 3-0 start, the Panthers quickly spiraled into a 3-game losing streak, including a 24-19 loss in Charlottesville. James Conner is among the top rushers in the league, but Pitt has struggled to replace Tom Savage and Devin Street, ranking near the bottom of the conference in passing offense. Paul Chryst needs to find more ways to get the ball to the explosive Tyler Boyd if the Panthers hope to get back on track. They do finish with 4 of their final 6 at home, including a critical Thursday night matchup this week with Virginia Tech.
Final 6: vs. VT, vs. GT, vs. Duke, @ UNC, vs. Syracuse, @ Miami
6. Miami (4-3, 1-2)
The Hurricanes were picked to finish first in the Coastal for a second straight season, but have thus far disappointed. There is no questioning the talent on the Miami roster, but the execution simply hasn’t been consistent. The Hurricanes, with a freshman quarterback, rank near the bottom of the conference in 3rd down conversions and have already coughed up 16 turnovers. Duke Johnson is one of the most explosive players in the country, but only averages 15 carries per game. Miami does have a bye week before tough games at Virginia Tech and at home against Florida State.
Final 5: @ VT, vs. UNC, vs. FSU, @ UVA, vs. Pitt
7. North Carolina (2-4, 0-2)
After a 2-0 start, the Tar Heels have spiraled into a 4-game losing streak as they get ready to host Georgia Tech this Saturday. A year ago, the Tar Heels actually opened 1-5 and 0-3 in the ACC before reeling off 5 straight wins, so anything is possible. To turn this season around, Larry Fedora is going to have to find a way to stop opposing offenses. The Tar Heels are giving up over 500 yards and 43 points per game. With 2 rivalry games to close out their season, anything is possible.
Final 6: vs. GT, @ UVA, @ Miami, vs. Pitt, @ Duke, vs. NCSU
The division is clearly still wide open, but it’s worth mentioning that Duke does control their own destiny after their win over Georgia Tech. The next two games are crucial for the Blue Devils, as they host the first-place Cavaliers and travel to Pittsburgh out of their second bye week. Virginia Tech remains very much alive with a favorable schedule the rest of the way, and a November 15th showdown in Wallace Wade Stadium could be decisive.
Tickets for Duke’s stretch run are still available here, both for single game and package sales.