ACC Coastal Power Rankings at the start of the season

Breaking down where every team stands before the first week of ACC football

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If senior quarterback Bryce Perkins can continue developing, Virginia may be able to overcome Miami in the ACC Coastal. 

Courtesy Virginia Athletics

The first week of Virginia football is officially here and with it is the first edition of The Cavalier Daily’s ACC Coastal Power Rankings. As the Virginia football team hunts for the division title, this weekly column will rank every team in the Coastal division to see how well the Cavaliers are doing in the divisional race. With Virginia set to play its season opener at Pittsburgh Saturday, it’s time to breakdown the preseason rankings.

1. Miami (0-1, 0-0 ACC)

Last week: 20-24 loss vs. No. 8 Florida Aug. 24

This week: Bye

The first ACC team to kick off the season also landed in the number one spot. In its opening matchup against No. 8 Florida, the Hurricanes competed well for 60 minutes in their toughest matchup of the regular season. While the game was full of turnovers, both sides were at fault and many of the mistakes can be attributed to first-game jitters. Despite being sacked 10 times, freshman quarterback Jarren Williams threw for 214 yards and a touchdown with no turnovers. The inexperienced passer demonstrated tremendous confidence in less-than-ideal conditions. On the other side of the ball, Miami maintained a strong, aggressive defense ready to force turnovers. The biggest question mark and area of vulnerability for the Hurricanes has to be the offensive line. The Florida defensive line punished Miami to the tune of 16 tackles for loss that pushed the Hurricanes back 71 yards. While the Gators have a talented front seven, Miami needs to improve its pass protection to avoid placing too much pressure on Williams’ young shoulders. Regardless, given the poised play at quarterback, offensive talent and rejuvenated defense, the Hurricanes sit atop the power rankings until further notice.  

2. Virginia (0-0, 0-0 ACC)

This week: Aug. 31 at Pittsburgh

Virginia enters the season as the favorite to win the ACC Coastal Division, according to ACC media. Finishing with a record of 7-5, beating then-No. 16 Miami and winning the Belk Bowl against South Carolina in 2018 has ushered in lots of optimism surrounding Virginia football and Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s “New Standard.” With expectations so high, the Cavaliers have a lot to prove. Virginia’s roster looks strong on both sides of the ball. The standouts on defense are junior Charles Snowden and senior Jordan Mack at the linebacker position, senior Bryce Hall at cornerback and junior Joey Blount at free safety. Worth noting also is freshman nose tackle Jowon Briggs who, at 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds, has flashed serious talent during training camp and preseason workouts. While the offense lost a lot of weapons, the leader of the unit returns in senior quarterback Bryce Perkins. Perkins will need to become more of a developed passer and continue his outstanding playmaking ability on the run in his second season in Charlottesville. With new running backs and a young offensive line, Perkins will have to step up in the pocket and build a rapport with his senior wide receivers Hasise Dubois and Joe Reed. In addition to Pittsburgh this weekend, the Cavaliers will play top teams such as No. 9 Notre Dame, Miami and Florida State later this season. Despite the tough schedule, Virginia’s mix of returning stars and exciting youth places the Cavaliers firmly in the number two position.

3. Virginia Tech (0-0, 0-0 ACC)

This week: Aug. 31 at Boston College

Coming off of its first losing season since 1992, the Virginia Tech football team is determined to get back on track. Additionally, 33-year assistant coach Bud Foster has decided to retire, giving the Hokies even more motivation to make this year count. Looking at personnel, Virginia Tech has a reliable quarterback in senior Ryan Wills, who threw for 2,764 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. He has weapons at tight end and wide receiver as well in juniors Dalton Keene and Damon Hazelton, respectively. While the Hokies return a few strong defensive backs, the ability of the defensive front to stop the run is still unclear. With many lost transfers and injuries for the Hokies, Virginia has the slight edge over Virginia Tech, but that could change very quickly.

4. Pittsburgh (0-0, 0-0 ACC)

This week: Aug. 31 vs. Virginia

Despite only finishing at .500 last year, Pittsburgh still won the Coastal Division with a 6-2 conference record. With Coach Pat Narduzzi signed until 2024, the Panthers are ready to keep contending in the ACC. However, Pittsburgh had a lot of work to do this past offseason, having to replace 12 starters and figure out a way to kickstart a lackluster offense. In his second season as the starting quarterback, junior Kenny Pickett will be counted on to revive a unit that finished 98th in total offense last year. Without their star running backs, Pittsburgh will have to find new ways to generate offense with Pickett at the helm. On defense, Pittsburgh is in a more stable stage as the team returns playmakers at virtually every position. Given such a precarious offensive situation, the Panthers are likely to be a middle-of-the-pack team in the Coastal division.

5. Duke (0-0, 0-0 ACC)

This week: Aug. 31 vs. No. 2 Alabama 

After a successful 2018 for Duke football, which finished with an 8-5 record, it’s fairly reasonable to assume a dropoff in 2019, especially with the loss of quarterback Daniel Jones, who is now playing in the NFL after being drafted sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. Losing their driving force in the passing game means the Blue Devils are set to struggle offensively. Even with a top-50 defense in 2018 which is returning lots of talent, it’s hard to see Duke cracking .500. Furthermore, Duke is scheduled to play the best team in the nation over the last decade —  Alabama — in its opener. Bouncing back from an expected resounding defeat will not be easy.

6. North Carolina (0-0, 0-0 ACC)

This week: Aug. 31 vs. South Carolina

The Tar Heels endured a rough year in 2018 with a 2-9 record to finish the season. However, things are looking much brighter with the recent signing of Coach Mack Brown. The former coach at the University of Texas brings toughness and experience to a derailed squad. Due to the coaching change, North Carolina has been able to add a few four-star recruits, including freshman quarterback Sam Howell who turned down Florida State to play for Brown. With a struggling defense and unestablished offensive playmakers, it is up to Howell to lead the way. While Howell is a gifted passer, it would be unrealistic to expect him to immediately carry the load and lead a resurgence for the Tar Heels.

7. Georgia Tech (0-1, 0-1 ACC)

This week: Lost to No. 1 Clemson, 52-14

Like North Carolina, Georgia Tech is another team in transition. Geoff Collins is entering his first year as head coach and is drastically changing the offensive scheme from a triple-option attack to more of a pro-style offense. However, change needs time to be successful, so fans will have to wait and see how fast Collins can get the team on track. The Yellow Jackets’ first loss, a drubbing against No. 1 Clemson — the defending national champions — was a sign of the growing pains that they will experience this season. Their quarterbacks, recruited for the option offense, finished 7/18 with 137 yards passing, two interceptions and just one touchdown.

With the whole season ahead, the rankings above will change with time. Check in midseason for the second iteration of the ACC Coastal Power Ranking.

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