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Virginia football picked to win the ACC Coastal Division

The Cavaliers are prepared to face the challenge of being the favorites

<p>Virginia football opens the season against Pittsburgh Saturday, Aug. 31.</p>

Virginia football opens the season against Pittsburgh Saturday, Aug. 31.

Virginia football is favored to win the ACC Coastal Division this year.

At last week’s ACC Media Days in Charlotte, N.C., the Cavaliers received 82 first-place votes out of a panel of 173 media members. Miami finished second with 55 votes, and Virginia Tech finished third with 20.

This marks the first time the Cavaliers are favored to win their division since the ACC went to two divisions in 2005.

Last year, Virginia exceeded expectations. The Cavaliers, despite being projected to finish last in the ACC Coastal at ACC Media Days last year, went on to finish 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC, beating South Carolina 28-0 to win the Belk Bowl.

The Cavaliers finished tied for third place last season in the ACC Coastal with Virginia Tech and Miami, both of which ended the season 4-4 in conference play. Pittsburgh won the division with a 6-2 record — the Panthers also happen to be the first team Virginia will face this season, Saturday, Aug. 31, at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

Their performance last year, in addition to the talent of notable returning players and a strong recruiting class, has Virginia picked to finish first. Two of those returning players — senior quarterback Bryce Perkins and senior cornerback Bryce Hall — expressed that their team is capable of what it takes.

Hall, who could have declared for the NFL Draft, opted to return for his senior season to help lift the Cavaliers to new heights. Despite a successful season, Virginia still came up short against in-state rival Virginia Tech and in winning the ACC Coastal. Hall, a preseason all-ACC football team selection, wants to be part of Virginia’s title run.

“I think there is understanding what we did last year, trying to learn from our mistakes, then kind of put that behind us,” Hall said. “We know what we're capable of doing. Now we're trying to be even better than we were a year ago.”

Perkins, who set a single-season program record last year with 3,603 yards of total offense, believes in his team. He stressed the importance of making plays in close games late in the season in Virginia’s bid for the division title. The Cavaliers lost two crucial games in overtime to conclude the regular season last year — including one to Virginia Tech — which took them out of title contention.

“We definitely have the talent and we definitely have the mindset, too,” Perkins said. “It's going to be a factor of how hard in late season … we take the field in those games.”

Coach Bronco Mendenhall, who led Virginia to its first bowl game victory since 2005 last year, believes in his team. 

“We have a returning quarterback,” Mendenhall said. “We have a strong defense. We have a culture of excellence. We have confidence. We have an expectation that that's what we're capable of.”

After finishing 2-10 overall and 1-7 in the ACC in 2016 — Mendenhall’s first year — the Cavaliers’ expectations have changed after making bowl games for two consecutive years and winning the Belk Bowl last year in decisive fashion.

“We expect to be great,” Perkins said. “We won’t settle for anything less.”