***** COASTAL DIVISION PREDICTIONS
1. Georgia Tech
This division could swing in a variety of ways based on, arguably, the two most talented teams having to face Atlantic Division powers Florida State and Clemson, but Georgia Tech's Justin Thomas proved last year that he's a clutch playmaker and a true difference-maker. He finished his first full year as a starter with 1,719 yards passing and 1,086 rushing yards, a school-single season record for a quarterback.
COASTAL DIVISION PREDICTIONS
The Jackets lose nearly all of their other skill position players, but they return four starters on the offensive line, and Paul Johnson has proven that his offense can churn out skill talent.
Tech's success may hinge on defensive improvements, and there is some optimism. The Yellow Jackets have potential All-ACC players on all three levels in Adam Gotsis, P.J. Davis, and Jamal Golden. Scheduling Note: Georgia Tech's interdivisional games are against Florida State and Clemson... not good. However, they have Pitt, North Carolina, and Virginia Tech at home, which could be beneficial in future tie-breaker scenarios within the division.
2. Virginia Tech
If Virginia Tech was more consistent offensively they would be the choice to win the Coastal Division, and you can expect several media members to pick the Hokies because their defense should easily be the best in the conference.
Cornerback Kendall Fuller, defensive end Dadi Nicolas, defensive tackle Luther Maddy, defensive end Ken Ekanem, and cornerback Brandon Facyson could all be first-team All-ACC picks, and Bud Foster will certainly have the entire unit ready to go. This may could be Tech's best defense in years, and that's saying something.
Wideout Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges flashed major upside last season, but turnovers, penalties, and inconsistent play killed the Hokies, despite being stellar defensively.
If the offensive line, which has to replace three starters, and quarterback Michael Brewer step up, Tech should be the Coastal Division champs, but we're not counting on it.
Scheduling Note: Terrific setup for Virginia Tech.
The Hokies avoid Clemson and Florida State (host NC State, travel to Boston College) and host Pitt and North Carolina. They do travel to Georgia Tech and Miami, but both of those teams face Florida State and Clemson.
This is where things really start to get messy in the Coastal because from 3-to-6 you can probably slot any of the next four teams.
The Canes haven't been what was expected when they joined the ACC, and this is a pivotal year for head coach Al Golden. The good news is he'll have potential star Brad Kaaya back at quarterback, fresh off a true freshman season where he led the ACC in passing efficiency. There's talent in the backfield, despite losing Duke Johnson, and wideouts Stacy Coley, Herb Waters, Rashawn Scott, and Malcolm Lewis are more than capable of stepping up for tight end Clive Walford and first-round draft pick Phillip Dorsett.
Miami should be really good offensively, but can the defense match their offensive success? The front seven is a question mark, but safeties Deon Bush and Rayshawn Jenkins anchor a solid secondary.
Scheduling Note: Like Georgia Tech, Miami gets Florida State and Clemson, but they host Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, providing them a better chance to upset the two division favorites.
4. North Carolina
There's a lot to like about North Carolina's... offense. 10 starters are back including star quarterback Marquise Williams and all five offensive line starters. Wideouts Ryan Switzer, Quinshad Davis, and Mack Hollins are proven weapons, and junior tailback T.J. Logan could be just as effective if they ever committed to him at the position.
But, you can't just play offense, and North Carolina's defense and kicking game were atrocious last season.
The Heels were No. 119 nationally in scoring defense and No. 120 in total defense, and frankly they lacked playmakers. Their best defensive player was arguably former walk-on linebacker Jeff Schoettmer, and they still lack size upfront... a major concern in division blessed with power running games like at Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Miami, and Pittsburgh.
A huge issue was also their struggles in the kicking game. The Heels made just 6-of-13 field goals last season. It impacted their playcalls in the redzone and likely cost them a game or two during the season. They were able to redshirt US Army All-American kicker Freeman Jones, but, if he can solve the problems, why was he redshirting?
Scheduling Note: Another team that misses the FSU/Clemson duo, the Heels have to travel to Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Pitt, and NC State.
Pittsburgh gets the nod because they have maybe the top two returning skill position players in the ACC in tailback James Conner and wide receiver Tyler Boyd.
Conner was a breakout star last year, and he sets the tone with his physical play. He led a rushing attack that averaged 250 yards per game and was dominant in the redzone. Conner was remarkably consistent, despite his offense’s lack of diversity, rushing for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns on 298 carries... beast mode.
Boyd is a threat in the return game and was a first-team All-ACC pick last season after totaling 78 receptions for 1,261 yards and eight touchdowns. In an offense that had passing problems with young quarterback Chad Voytik, he was just as consistent as Conner.
Defensively is where the concerns are for the Panthers. There aren't many playmakers and not a lot of experience, but new head coach Pat Narduzzi built his rep on that side of the ball. Will he make a major impact in year one? If so, Pitt's too low on this list.
Scheduling Note: Pitt opens the season with five of their first seven games on the road, including matchups at Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
No team has been hit harder by attrition than the Blue Devils, and it could cost them this year.
They must replace standout quarterback Anthony Boone and big-time wideout Jamison Crowder. They get back tight end Braxton Deaver from an injury that forced him to miss 2015, but they won't have star linebacker Kelby Brown, as his career is over following another ACL tear.
Thomas Sirk has an opportunity to be really good at quarterback, but he's just been a situational runner to this point. Can he take over the passing-game element? That's the big question.
Defensively the Blue Devils return star Jeremy Cash, and he'll be joined by underrated junior DeVon Edwards at safety. However, the turnover in the front seven is a concern.
Scheduling Note: Duke's cross-over is Wake Forest and for the third year in a row they miss Florida State and Clemson (host Boston College).
Five of the last seven games are on the road, including contests at North Carolina and Virginia Tech.
Could this be Mike London's last year as head coach at Virginia? If they finish last in the division it likely is.
The Cavaliers have added talent under his reign but have yet to find that difference-maker at quarterback, and it has often been the team's biggest issue. It's still a question mark entering 2015, and junior Matt Johns will get the chance to step up after winning the job in the spring over Greyson Lambert (who has transferred out of the program).
Johns will have some capable weapons in UNC transfer T.J. Thorpe and Canaan Severin, and tailback Smoke Mizzell is a dangerous receiving option out of the backfield.
Defensively they've been solid under DC Jon Tenuta, but the Cavs must replace their top three pass-rushers: Eli Harold, Henry Coley and Max Valles. Expect Tenuta, to scheme things up.
Scheduling Note: It's brutal.
Virginia starts the season at UCLA and hosting Notre Dame. How's that for a nonconference start?
Overall, they travel to UCLA, Miami and Louisville, and host Notre Dame, Boise State, Georgia Tech, Duke, and Virginia Tech. Ouch.