Last week North Carolina appeared to be the class of the ACC’s Coastal Division. Yes, the Tar Heels had dropped their conference opener, at Wake Forest, but that was without Giovani Bernard, the league’s premier running back.
With Bernard healthy, Carolina had subsequently thumped Virginia Tech and survived at Miami. Though ineligible to win the Coastal due to NCAA sanctions, the Tar Heels were playing the division’s best football.
So what happened Saturday? Carolina lost to Duke for the first time since 2003 on Sean Renfree’s last-second, fourth-down scoring pass.
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Such is life in the Coastal this year. The moment you think you know, most everything goes haywire.
Now some folks tell me first-place Duke (6-2, 3-1 ACC) is the Coastal’s best. Indeed, keyboard comrade Jim Young of the ACC Sports Journal has the Blue Devils atop the division in his weekly ACC power rankings.
But no matter Duke’s first bowl eligibility since 1994 and David Cutcliffe’s sage coaching, it’s difficult for me to consider the Blue Devils the Coastal’s cream, or to envision them representing the division Dec. 1 in the ACC championship game.
Three reasons: Pedigree, schedule and that 41-20 loss at Virginia Tech two Saturdays ago.
I’m plenty old enough to remember Duke sharing the 1989 ACC title with Virginia – they were declared co-champions despite the Cavaliers’ victory over the Devils. Indeed, I covered Duke’s upset of No. 7 Clemson that season, its first top-20 conquest in 23 years.
But we all know the Devils’ more recent history, and it’s a strange segue to consider Duke a legitimate contender given its 9-87 conference record of the previous 11 years.
More to the point: The remaining schedule is thorny.
The Devils’ next two games are at Florida State on Saturday – FSU leads the series 17-0 -- and home against Clemson the following week. Now the Seminoles and Tigers are notorious for coming up small against allegedly inferior opponents, but I still don’t see Duke surviving Florida State’s defense or Clemson’s offense.
The Devils certainly weren’t title worthy at Virginia Tech, where they allowed 41 unanswered points after bolting to a 20-0 lead.
But if Duke beats FSU and/or Clemson, wow, and hand Cutcliffe the Coach of the Year plaque immediately. If not, the Devils are 3-3 in the ACC with games remaining against Georgia Tech and Miami.
Duke then would need Virginia Tech (4-4, 2-2) to lose at least two of its final four. That’s certainly possible given the Hokies’ missteps this season, but if Virginia Tech wins what is essentially a coin-flip game next Thursday at Miami, the Hokies could still lose to Florida State and win the Coastal with subsequent victories over Boston College and Virginia, both of which are 0-4 in league play.
If Miami (4-4, 3-2) beats Virginia Tech, the Coastal Division likely will be decided in the regular-season finale between Miami and Duke. At the ACC’s football kickoff in July, we media knotheads picked the Hurricanes fifth and the Devils sixth.
So back to the original question: Who’s the best team in the Coastal Division?
Couldn’t tell ya. Maybe it is Duke. Or North Carolina, Miami or Virginia Tech.
Head-to-head results? No help. Duke beat Carolina, which beat Virginia Tech, which beat Duke. Miami's only encounter with the other three was a home loss to the Tar Heels.
Drawing a name out of a helmet would be fine by me.
And who will represent the division Dec. 1 in Charlotte? Make it the Miami-Virginia Tech survivor.
And who wins between the Hokies and Hurricanes? Get back to me on that.
The last four times I’ve seen the Hokies in person, they’ve lost. The last time the ‘Canes were this bad on defense (499.1 yards and 32.4 points per game) was, well, never.
It’s been that kind of year in the Coastal Division.
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