Preseason favorite Virginia grabs top spot in Coastal power rankings

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Preseason favorite Virginia grabs top spot in Coastal power rankings

A narrow loss at Happy Valley, snapping UCF’s regular season streak, and nailbiter victory over Duke have contributed to Pitt’s ranking.

A narrow loss at Happy Valley, snapping UCF’s regular season streak, and nailbiter victory over Duke have contributed to Pitt’s ranking.

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

A narrow loss at Happy Valley, snapping UCF’s regular season streak, and nailbiter victory over Duke have contributed to Pitt’s ranking.

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

A narrow loss at Happy Valley, snapping UCF’s regular season streak, and nailbiter victory over Duke have contributed to Pitt’s ranking.

By Nick Carlisano, Staff Writer

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As temperatures drop and leaves begin to fall, college football kicks into high gear. It’s around this time that audiences start to see contenders and pretenders for who they are — a fact which certainly holds true for the ACC Coastal. Six weeks into the season and the division is once again wide open.

Will preseason favorite Virginia finish strong and claim a championship game berth? Or will Duke continue to win despite its brutal remaining schedule? Does Pitt have what it takes to defend their unlikely Coastal title from last season?

With college football as unpredictable as ever, only time will tell how the second half will shake out. The next two to three weeks will truly determine where each team will stand at season’s end. For now, here are power rankings and an outlook for each team for their next six games as they hit the home stretch.

 

1. Virginia (4-2 overall, 2-1 ACC)

 

Despite dropping their last two games, the Cavaliers remain at the top of the rankings for now. Miami’s stingy defense held quarterback Bryce Perkins and his offense scoreless Friday night as Virginia only put three field goals on the scoreboard. Virginia stays at the top simply because of the unpredictability of the rest of the division.

Duke still has a strong slate of opponents remaining, including Notre Dame, Wake Forest and the Cavaliers themselves. Pitt, who beat Duke last weekend, is still about as unpredictable of a football team as they come. And, despite a good start, UNC has had trouble winning close games up until this point. Virginia’s fast start in the conference gave it a leg up on it’s foes in the division.

Virginia’s evident downfall has been its run game. Perkins has been the Cavalier’s best rusher for much of the season as he continues to get it done on the ground and through the air. They will need a more well-rounded attack to have success in upcoming matchups against Duke and Louisville.

 

2. Pittsburgh (4-2 overall, 1-1 ACC)

 

A little Panther bias never hurt anyone, right? Coach Pat Narduzzi has his “Cardiac Cats” contending for their second straight Coastal title. A narrow loss at No. 10 Penn State, snapping UCF’s regular season streak and nailbiter victory over Duke all boost the Panthers to a No. 2 position in the power rankings.

New offensive coordinator Mark Whipple has the Panthers scoring points, highlighted by junior quarterback Kenny Pickett’s game-winning touchdown reception to beat UCF, and the defense is one of the best in recent memory at Pitt.

The Panthers are simply finding ways to win games. They still face tough opponents among the likes of Miami and North Carolina, but as last year showed, you better make sure the Panthers are dead before counting them out.

 

3. North Carolina (3-3 overall, 2-1 ACC)

 

One year removed from an abysmal two-win season, the Tar Heels appear to have found their footing. UNC may sit at .500, but the team’s three losses are by a combined 10 points. Any team that takes the defending national champions down to the wire deserves some recognition — that’s what earns the Heels the third spot on this list. Putting up 28 points on Miami and a close loss at a ranked Wake Forest team prove North Carolina’s mettle further.

First-year quarterback Sam Howell has thrown for at least two touchdowns in every game thus far. He and his offense shouldn’t have trouble putting up points the next two weeks against Virginia Tech, who Duke hung 45 on, or the Blue Devils themselves. Plus, this week’s bye should give the Tar Heels plenty of time to prepare for what are must-win games in the title race.

 

4. Duke (4-2 overall, 2-1 ACC)

 

The Blue Devils fall to number four in the rankings due in large part to who they’ve yet to play. The remainder of Duke’s schedule is nightmarish — including games in Virginia and North Carolina in back-to-back weeks plus a trip to Wake Forest, then three home contests against Miami, Notre Dame and an always-solid Syracuse team. That gauntlet will likely yield at least three more losses for the Blue Devils, who can’t afford many more if they want to stay in the division race.

Despite losing Daniel Jones to the NFL, Duke’s offense continues to put up points — no less than 30 in any game except against top-ranked Alabama. Whether or not that trend can continue remains to be seen, given the defenses it still has to play. Blowing their primetime matchup against Pitt raises the question of whether or not the Blue Devils can win close games.

 

5. Miami (3-3 overall, 1-2 ACC)

 

Miami has proven it can contend with any opponent, as evidenced by a close opening-night loss to No. 9 Florida and a victory on Saturday over Virginia.

But with two ACC losses already, the Hurricanes find themselves lacking in the Coastal race. They suffered a head-scratching 42-35 loss to Virginia Tech in a game where their typically stout defense failed to show up. They also fell to UNC, thus giving the Tar Heels the head-to-head tiebreaker. With challenging ACC games at Pitt, Florida State and Duke still left to play, Miami faces long odds of living up to its preseason No. 2 rank in the division.

 

6. Virginia Tech (4-2 overall, 1-2 ACC)

 

Like Miami, Virginia Tech faces an uphill battle after losing two ACC games. Unlike Miami, the Hokies haven’t shown any hope that they can turn things around.

The first sign that Virginia Tech might not live up to its preseason No. 3 Coastal projection was a 35-28 loss to mediocre Boston College on opening day. A 45-10 shellacking at the hands of Duke confirmed that it would be a long season for the Hokies. Virginia Tech would be lucky to steal even one game from remaining ACC opponents UNC, Wake Forest, Pitt and Virginia. The only hope for a win left on its schedule is a matchup against lowly Georgia Tech.

 

7. Georgia Tech (1-5 overall, 0-3 ACC)

 

In a year filled with the typically high level of Coastal parity, Georgia Tech is the lone outlier. The Yellow Jackets haven’t stayed within two touchdowns of any ACC opponent, and their results include losses to The Citadel and Temple. After moving on from long-time head coach Paul Johnson, it’s clear that the program’s rebuild will be a lengthy process. You can safely consider Georgia Tech a lock to place last in the division.

 

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