CORAL GABLES, Fla. (AP) — Chaos rested last season in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division.
It may reign again this year.
North Carolina, a team in fourth place in the division two weeks ago, is now on top. Virginia Tech and Virginia, the last Coastal unbeatens, are perfect no more in league play after Saturday defeats. And for the 10th time in 12 years, the Coastal representative in the league title game will get there with at least one conference loss.
In other words, here they go again.
“The ACC is up in the air,” Miami quarterback Brad Kaaya said.
He’s likely right, though the Tar Heels have taken a big step toward successfully defending their Coastal title with wins at Florida State and now-reeling Miami in the last three weeks.
A year ago, North Carolina made it look easy with an 8-0 record in Coastal play — emerging unscathed from a division that had a three-way tie for first in 2012 and sent two-loss champions to the title game in 2013 and 2014. No Coastal club is getting to Orlando unblemished for this year’s title game, and there’s still potential for a logjam at the top when it’s all said and done.
More than half the league season remains, but players know that every week might mean everything.
“Guys knew that if we didn’t come out of here with a win, we’d be hard-pressed to get to Orlando,” North Carolina receiver Ryan Switzer said after the Tar Heels held off Miami 20-13 on Saturday.
There are only two games affecting the Coastal this coming week. North Carolina goes to Virginia on Saturday, a game where most of the division will likely be pulling for the Cavaliers. But first, Miami visits Virginia Tech on Thursday night — and it’s not a stretch to say it’s a must-win for the Hurricanes’ divisional hopes.
“We’ve got to find a way,” Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente said.
Here’s a look at the Coastal clubs, and what each has left on its ACC slate:
NORTH CAROLINA (5-2, 3-1)
What’s left: at Virginia, Georgia Tech, at Duke, N.C. State.
Outlook: Now the likely favorite, the Tar Heels could become the first back-to-back Coastal champion since Virginia Tech in 2010 and 2011.
PITTSBURGH (5-2, 2-1)
What’s left: Virginia Tech, at Miami, at Clemson, Duke, Syracuse.
Outlook: Blowing a two-touchdown lead in the final 6 minutes against North Carolina is keeping the Panthers out of the Coastal driver’s seat.
VIRGINIA TECH (4-2, 2-1)
What’s left: Miami, at Pittsburgh, at Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia.
Outlook: The Hokies have beaten the Tar Heels, a factor if tiebreakers come into play. Thursday night at home against Miami is huge for both.
VIRGINIA (2-4, 1-1)
What’s left: North Carolina, Louisville, at Wake Forest, Miami, at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech.
Outlook: Extremely daunting schedule awaits the Cavaliers, who weren’t expected to be a Coastal contender in Bronco Mendenhall’s first year.
MIAMI (4-2, 1-2)
What’s left: at Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, at Virginia, at N.C. State, Duke.
Outlook: Depth issues taking a toll. If the Hurricanes are to finally reach their first ACC title game, it might take a 5-0 finish and some help.
GEORGIA TECH (4-3, 1-3)
What’s left: Duke, at North Carolina, at Virginia Tech, Virginia.
Outlook: The Yellow Jackets played in the ACC title game two years ago and are a mere 2-10 in conference games since. They could be a spoiler.
DUKE (3-4, 0-3)
What’s left: at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, North Carolina, at Pittsburgh, at Miami.
Outlook: Duke still has four opponents with realistic division hopes. Will scaring Louisville empower the Blue Devils, or was that their last gasp?
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