Coastal Power Rankings: Miami to dethrone Pitt as champs


Al Diaz/TNS

Miami Hurricanes defensive back Trajan Bandy wears the team’s iconic turnover chain.

By Tyler Moran, Staff Writer

After stealing the ACC Coastal crown in 2018, the Panthers will be hard-pressed to top the division’s tough trifecta of Miami, Virginia Tech and Virginia. At the bottom of the rankings, Georgia Tech and Duke will attempt to move on from meaningful members of their respective programs, while UNC is still a few years away from contending.

1)  Miami

Projected record: 11-1 overall (8-0 ACC)

After finishing a disappointing 7-6 last season, the Hurricanes look to bring this program back to the top of the nation. Miami already sits at 0-1 for the season after losing to No. 8 Florida last Saturday. But don’t let that loss fool you — Miami’s defense is the real deal. It forced four turnovers against a championship contending team in Florida. Starting linebacker Shaquille Quarterman and cornerback Trajan Bandy return from last year to lead that side of the ball.

The offense returns impact players like running back DeeJay Dallas and tight end Brevin Jordan to compliment the defense. The biggest “x-factor” for the Hurricanes is first-year quarterback Jarren Williams. He won the starting job over former Ohio State quarterback Tate Martell and his ability to extend plays will make Miami tough to beat — as long as he also shows that he can throw the ball effectively.

Miami catches a break in its schedule by facing both Virginia and Virginia Tech at home. Florida will be the one and only loss for “The U” this season.

2)  Virginia Tech 

Projected record: 10-2 overall (7-1 ACC)

Last season was a rollercoaster of emotions for the Hokies, filled with lows that far outweighed the highs. Although Virginia Tech beat in-state rival Virginia and made a bowl game, it also lost to Old Dominion and finished with a sub .500 record. The team played well below expectations and could never find its rhythm.

That all changes this season. Senior quarterback Ryan Willis holds the keys to the offense and will throw to the electrifying receiver duo of Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner. The Hokies also return their top tackler in linebacker Rayshard Ashby to keep the defense intact.

Virginia Tech’s biggest challenge is that it plays its toughest games — against Notre Dame, Miami and Virginia — away from home. Still, this Hokie team has the talent to hang with and defeat all three of these teams if all goes to plan.

3)  Virginia  

Projected record: 8-4 overall (5-3 ACC)

Many analysts are pegging Virginia to win the ACC Coastal. And though this is a good team, it still lacks what it takes to be a great team.

All of this preseason hype can be pinned on Bryce Perkins. The senior signal-caller has returned to pick up where the Cavaliers left off last year. Virginia also returns its top defensive player in linebacker Jordan Mack. These two will not be enough to win this division. The absence of cornerback Juan Thornhill and wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus will loom large this season. Virginia faces Notre Dame and Miami on the road, making those games unlikely victories. They fortunately play Virginia Tech at home, which will elevate their odds of winning. The Cavaliers must open up the season with a win at Pittsburgh to put them on the right track for the year.

4)  Pitt

Projected record: 6-6 overall (4-4 ACC)

No one would have predicted that the Pittsburgh Panthers would be the reigning ACC Coastal champions leading into the 2019 season. Unfortunately for the Panthers, many of the impactful players that brought them last year’s success will not be on the team this season. They lose the dynamic backfield duo of Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, the team’s offensive identity in 2018. Junior AJ Davis will look to replace the duo’s production — a challenging task to accomplish.

Pitt also suits up this year without its best pass rusher in Rashad Weaver, who tore his ACL in training camp. On the bright side, quarterback Kenny Pickett returns for his junior season with new offensive coordinator Mark Whipple running the offense. Whipple will look to unlock Pickett’s passing potential, something that he’s been able to do in the past. The Panthers’ secondary, led by the senior tandem of Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin, is the strength of the defense.

For the second year in a row, Pitt’s non-conference schedule is quite challenging. The Panthers travel to Beaver Stadium to face in-state rivals Penn State, and will also host UCF and Ohio. Pitt opens up its season under the Saturday night lights to face Virginia, and this game will have huge ACC Coastal implications.

5)  Duke

Projected record: 5-7 overall (3-5 ACC)

The Blue Devils will see major regression compared to last season’s 8-5 campaign, in large part due to losing starting quarterback Daniel Jones, who was selected sixth overall in the 2019 NFL draft. Head coach David Cutcliffe must find a player who can fill the gap in production left by Jones’ departure. Senior Quentin Harris has been a career backup and will likely take the reins for the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils have Alabama and Notre Dame on the schedule this season, so it’s safe to say they will lose both those games. Barring a breakout season from Harris, this squad will miss out on postseason action.

6)  North Carolina

Projected record: 4-8 (2-6 ACC)

Legendary head coach Mack Brown has returned to North Carolina — and he brought with him the best recruiting class the Tar Heels have had in awhile.

Brown’s recruiting ability generated hype for the upcoming season, but the Tar Heels are all bark and no bite at this moment in time. We haven’t seen Brown’s recruits in action yet — the players we have seen play finished last season with an abysmal 2-9 record. Brown named true freshman Sam Howell as the starting quarterback for Week 1, and he should at least help UNC win a few more games for the program. In the first year of Brown’s return, North Carolina will once again miss out on a bowl game.

7)  Georgia Tech

Projected record: 2-10 (0-8 ACC)

This season will be an enormous adjustment for the Yellow Jackets after the retirement of former head coach Paul Johnson. New head coach Geoff Collins brings his pro-style offense to a team that has primarily ran the option offense in the past. This change in philosophy will result in the team going through a rough adjustment period until Collins gets the players that fit his offense. Georgia Tech should easily beat The Citadel this season, though they’ll struggle to win many more games after that.