CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina needed wins and plenty of help to stay afloat in the ACC Coastal Division race following its 34-3 loss to Virginia Tech on Oct. 8. One week later, the Tar Heels have elevated their standing and may have the inside track to a second straight trip to the ACC Championship Game.
UNC currently resides atop the Coastal standings with a 3-1 conference record, although it’s the loss column that matters most. Pittsburgh and Virginia Tech are tied for second with a 2-1 mark, although the Tar Heels own the tiebreaker over the Panthers. That’s not the case with the Hokies. Virginia is also in the mix at 1-1 in conference play, which adds significance on this weekend’s matchup at Scott Stadium.
Virginia Tech’s schedule appeared to cement Justin Fuente’s team in the frontrunner role after the win at Kenan Stadium, although that positioning is now tenuous after Saturday’s loss at Syracuse, a game in which the Hokies were 20-point favorites.
Now the schedule breaks in UNC’s favor when comparing the four teams expected to challenge for the Coastal Division title (UNC, VT, Pitt, Miami). The Tar Heels and the Hurricanes are the only two of the four projected to win all of their remaining games by both ESPN’s Football Power Index and Brian Fremeau’s FEI rating system. The Hokies and Panthers are both projected to lose two of their final five ACC contests.
UNC not only holds a one-game lead over Miami in the loss column, but it also owns the tiebreaker. The other aspect in play is that while the Tar Heels have played all three divisional challengers, they have yet to play each other, thereby guaranteeing three more losses for the lot by season’s end.
And while UNC has played the toughest schedule to date of the Coastal teams, according to USA Today’s Jeff Sagarin, it’s remaining schedule is the easiest of the aforementioned group of four.
|Team||Remaining Games||FPI/FEI Loss Proj.||Remaining SOS|
|UNC||@UVa, GT, @Duke, Citadel, NCSU||0||69|
|Virginia Tech||MIA, @PITT, @Duke, GT, @ND, UVa||2||42|
|Pittsburgh||VT, @MIA, @CLEM, Duke, SYR||2||28|
|Miami||@VT, @ND,PITT, @UVa, @NCSU, Duke||0||27|
In the event of a two-team tie, UNC would hold tiebreakers over both Pitt and Miami. If UNC and Virginia Tech finish tied atop the Coastal standings, the Tar Heels could still advance to the ACC Championship Game if three or more teams were tied, although that scenario would require both teams losing at least one more game.
For example, if UNC lost to N.C. State, Pitt lost to Clemson and Virginia Tech lost to Pitt so that all three teams finished 6-2 in ACC play, the Tar Heels would advance to Orlando based on Pitt’s knocking Virginia Tech out of the tiebreaker with its win over Syracuse. UNC would then play for the ACC Championship based on winning its tiebreaker with Pitt.
The ACC’s first tiebreaker in that scenario is combined head-to-head winning percentage. The second tiebreaker is the winning percentage of the tied teams within the division, and the third is head-to-head competition against the Coastal Division teams with the highest winning percentage, proceeding from first place to last. The fourth tiebreaker is winning percentage against common non-divisional opponents. Once a team is eliminated, the tiebreaker process restarts.
There are plenty of scenarios still in play, which is why the Tar Heels are solely focused on the task at hand.
“it’s a long season and anything can happen,” junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky said on Monday. “We’re just going to continue to control what we can control and hopefully we’ll have the opportunity, if we win out, to represent the Coastal in that game, but we’ve got Virginia this week. That’s the most important thing.”