At the midway point of Virginia football’s season, it is an opportune time to assess Virginia’s current position in the divisional race. With two consecutive losses and an overall record of 4-2, the Cavaliers no longer remain at the top of the Coastal division. With five out of the seven teams trading positions week after week and a spot in the ACC Championship on the line, no one in the division is safe.
1. Pittsburgh (4-2, 1-1 ACC)
Last week: Bye
This week: Friday at Syracuse
The reigning Coastal division champions have largely disproven my preseason evaluation. After predicting the Panthers to remain in mediocrity for the entirety of the season, they have made significant strides from week one to week six. Pittsburgh lost convincingly to formerly-ranked Virginia in week one but has since gone on to beat previously-ranked No. 16 UCF 35-34 at home and nearly upset No. 7 Penn State on the road. Since beating UCF in week four, the Panthers won easily against Delaware in week five and took down a resurgent Duke team on the road in week six 33-30. Junior quarterback Kenny Pickett remains the primary weapon in the Panthers’ pass-heavy offensive scheme, although he’s only tallied mediocre numbers — 1370 total passing yards, 6 touchdowns and a quarterback ranking of 63 in five games he started. Looking ahead to the remainder of the season, Pittsburgh’s schedule might be the easiest of the Coastal division contenders, facing an All-ACC six-game stretch of teams — none of its future opponents have a better record than 4-2 thus far. Moreover, Pittsburgh seems to perform better as the season progresses. Given their premier wins, team identity and easy remaining schedule, the Panthers sit atop the Coastal division.
2. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1 ACC)
Last week: Bye
This week: Saturday at Virginia Tech
Do not let its record fool you — North Carolina is a good football team. While its three wins are relatively unimpressive, North Carolina has gone toe-to-toe with the best of the best this season. Most notably, the Tar Heels were inches away from upsetting former No. 1 Clemson, as well nearly beating Wake Forest — who has a 5-1 record — and No. 24 Appalachian State. With a new but experienced coaching staff and breakout freshman quarterback Sam Howell, North Carolina has responded exceptionally well to last season’s 2-9 struggles. Offensively, Howell, sophomore running back Javonte Williams and sophomore receiver Dyami Brown have certainly been the premier performers in a dynamic scoring offense. Statistically, Howell has contributed 15 touchdowns along with William’s three and Brown’s five. Things haven’t been spotless for North Carolina but, without a doubt, the Tar Heels are the most surprising team in the Coastal. Up ahead, North Carolina will be tested, starting with Virginia Tech on the road and then Duke and Virginia the following two weeks.
3. Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC)
Last week: 9-17 loss at Miami Oct.11
This week: Saturday vs. Duke
After a promising 4-0 start to the season, Virginia has exited the top 25 and hit a mid-season slump with two consecutive losses on the road. Last week’s performance really took the division by surprise. Against Miami, who sits in the bottom half of the Coastal division with a 1-2 ACC record, Virginia displayed a stagnant offense, heavily reliant on senior quarterback Bryce Perkins. The Cavaliers’ weaknesses include poor ball security, an ineffective running game, a problematic offensive line and an inability to score in the red zone. Defensively, the Cavaliers held their own and performed to standard but lost preseason All-American and senior cornerback Bryce Hall. Regardless, the Cavaliers are 4-2 with a team full of playmakers and the steady, reputable Coach Bronco Mendenhall. Virginia’s position in the Coastal is bound to change given its response this week against Duke. This is a good opportunity for Virginia to rebound at home and get back on track for the remainder of the season.
4. Duke (4-2, 2-1 ACC)
Last week: 41-23 win vs. Georgia Tech Oct.12
This week: Saturday at Virginia
Duke’s first half of the season places it firmly in the middle of the pack. Duke’s current 4-2 record is generous. The Blue Devils’ schedule thus far has been relatively easy, playing North Carolina A&T and Middle Tennessee State in weeks two and three. The Blue Devils’ only impressive win came in week four with a 45-10 drubbing of Virginia Tech. Most recently, Duke put together a strong offensive performance against divisional opponent Georgia Tech, putting up a 28-point second quarter. Duke’s streaky play will be put to the test in week seven against Virginia. The Blue Devils have improved on both sides of the ball, but their team identity has yet to be discovered. After Virginia, Duke will face North Carolina and No. 8 Notre Dame, making a late season surge very difficult. Unless they win this weekend at Virginia, the Blue Devils’ chances to move up the divisional rankings are slim.
5. Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC)
Last week: 34-17 win vs. Rhode Island Oct.12
This week: Saturday vs. North Carolina
This week, Virginia Tech has a golden opportunity to catapult up the rankings with a matchup against North Carolina. Virginia Tech’s resume thus far is lackluster. The Hokies have posted wins against Old Dominion, Furman, Miami and Rhode Island. Similarly to Duke, the Hokies seem to be getting better as more games are played. In week five against Miami, Coach Justin Fuente made a change at quarterback, replacing senior Ryan Willis with sophomore Hendon Hooker. Based on Hooker’s performances in games against Miami and Rhode Island, Fuente may have found his future quarterback. Last weekend, Hooker threw for 261 yards and three touchdowns against Rhode Island. However, on the other side of the ball, the defense continues to be an issue, allowing Rhode Island to linger into the fourth quarter. Struggles in the secondary and penalties signal a lack of discipline and continue to set this team back. However, do not count out the coaching ability of defensive coordinator Bud Foster to tighten things up. This week is a huge opportunity for the Hokies and expect it to be a close one.
6. Miami (3-3, 1-2 ACC)
Last week: 17-9 win vs. Virginia Oct.11
This week: Saturday vs. Georgia Tech
Miami stays relevant with a home victory over formerly No. 20 Virginia. Looking at its three losses, Miami put up fights against good football teams — No. 9 Florida, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. Considering these competitive games plus the upset over Virginia, the Hurricanes look better on paper than they are. Their other two wins both came at home against Bethune-Cookman and Central Michigan. With redshirt freshman quarterback Jarren Williams cleared for practice, the Hurricanes have a decision to make at the quarterback position — either Williams or sophomore N’Kosi Perry. While the win against Virginia staved off an 0-3 start in conference play, there is still plenty of uncertainty around Miami. Fortunately for the Hurricanes, the second half of the season is favorable, facing Georgia Tech, Louisville and Florida International, and Miami has a decent chance to hang around .500.
7. Georgia Tech (1-5, 0-3 ACC)
Last week: 23-41 loss at Duke Oct.12
This week: Saturday at Miami
Unfortunately for Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets are the only team to remain in the same position as my preseason rankings — bottom of the Coastal. Taking one look at their record, the Yellow Jackets struggles are evident. Transitioning from the long-time triple option offense, first-year Coach Geoff Collins is still in the adjustment period. With an even tougher second half schedule, it’s almost impossible to imagine Georgia Tech turning its season around.