Here is an in-depth look at our preseason ACC ballot for the Coastal Division and the reasons behind our picks. We have submitted our ballot to the ACC office and the official results will be announced Monday morning.
COASTAL DIVISION PREDICTIONS
1. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has arguably the top returning skill talent in the division with wideout Isaiah Ford, tight end Bucky Hodges, and breakout tailback Travon McMillian and return four starters on the offensive line. The likely starter at quarterback, JUCO All-American Jerod Evans, threw for 38 touchdowns and just three interceptions at Trinity (TX) Valley Community College and has drawn comparisons to Cam Newton.
If it is Evans, he's in good hands. New head coach Justin Fuentes' last two quarterbacks, Andy Dalton (TCU) and Paxton Lynch (Memphis), are now in the NFL.
The big coup for Fuentes was keeping stud defensive coordinator Bud Foster to lead the defense... don't expect a drop-off on that side of the ball with plenty of talent returning.
The biggest reason why we went with Virginia Tech? Read below...
Scheduling Note: This division could swing in a variety of ways but we chose to go with Virginia Tech mainly due to the schedule. The Hokies avoid Clemson, Florida State, and Louisville, the only team in the division to do so, and face Syracuse and Boston College. That is huge in this setup, not to mention also hosting Miami.
Four or five teams could win the Coastal, but Virginia Tech has a clear advantage with the schedule.
Miami and North Carolina were extremely close for the next spot, but we went with the Canes because they return the division's best quarterback, Brad Kaaya, and also host the Tar Heels in Coral Gables.
Miami was 5-1 against the division last year, the lone loss coming in Chapel Hill, and returns plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. Expect new head coach Mark Richt and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to provide much-needed stability.
Scheduling Note: Miami does face Florida State and NC State, but hosts North Carolina while avoiding Clemson and Louisville.
3. North Carolina
The Tar Heels who went undefeated in league play in 2015, will likely be picked by most to win the division. However, there are a few concerns.
UNC must replace star quarterback Marquise Williams and one of the school's best wideouts Quinshad Davis. Projected starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky has some experience, but can he handle the job week-in, week-out? Look for the Heels to lean on tailbacks Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, and wideout Mack Hollins is a potential breakout candidate.
The weakness will likely continue to be on defense where the Tar Heels ranked No. 122 in rushing defense and must replace both starting linebackers, Shakeel Rashad (126 tackles) and Jeff Schoettmer (97 tackles). North Carolina must be better against the run in 2016.
Scheduling Note: North Carolina avoided FSU, Clemson, and Louisville last year but will travel to Tallahassee in 2016. The Heels also play at Miami but does host Virginia Tech.
Pittsburgh should be solid once again, as the Panthers are expected to have a stout defense and strong running game, but the loss of stud wideout Tyler Boyd is huge, as he was the clear focal point of an underwhelming passing attack.
Pitt hired former NC State offensive coordinator Matt Canada in the offseason, and that could be an upgrade. But, will it be enough to put them in a position to win the league?
The good news is it sounds like star tailback James Conner will return this season. He's a big-time playmaker.
Scheduling Note: Road games at Clemson, Miami, and North Carolina won't be easy for the Panthers.
5. Georgia Tech
Georgia Tech was our preseason pick last year after returning Justin Thomas from the previous title season. However, the Yellow Jackets struggled early and never got going, finishing with a disappointing 3-9 overall mark.
Thomas returns for his senior season and the young running backs received plenty of experience, but questions remain on both sides of the ball for Paul Johnson and his crew.
Scheduling Note: Georgia Tech's crossover rival is Clemson (home) and the Yellow Jackets also host Miami and Duke.
Quarterback Thomas Sirk should be healthy after suffering an Achilles injury, and tailback Shaun Wilson could be a star for the Blue Devils.
Defensively is where Duke could struggle as they must replace All-American safety Jeremy Cash, among others.
Scheduling Note: Duke's cross-over is Wake Forest and for the fourth year in a row they miss Florida State and Clemson. However, they do face Louisville on the road.
Bronco Mendenhall was a great hire for Virginia, but it will likely take some time.
UVA has some playmakers on both sides of the ball in tailback Taquan Mizzell and safety Quin Blanding, but with personnel losses and system changes this is expected to be a rebuilding year for the Cavaliers.
Scheduling Note: Like rival Virginia Tech, the Cavs won't play Florida State or Clemson. However, they do host Louisville.