A Poll of Insignificance

GREENSBORO, N.C. – North Carolina was tabbed third in the ACC preseason media football poll on Monday. But in what is expected to be a wide open Coastal Division race, Butch Davis and his Tar Heels know all too well that votes in July have no bearing on what transpires during the fall.

It was 371 days ago that UNC was picked second in its division in the 2008 media poll. Sixty-one days later, starting quarterback T.J. Yates fractured his ankle while attempting to scramble from the clutches of a rabid Virginia Tech defense. Three weeks after that incident, ACC Player of the Year candidate Brandon Tate tore his MCL and ACL against Notre Dame.

But predicting the future – at least in regard to college football – is predicated on past statistical analysis and likely probabilities. Wondering why Georgia Tech was picked ahead of North Carolina? More likely than not, it's the fact that the Tar Heels must travel to Atlanta on Sept. 26, where they haven't notched a victory since 1997.

Six different programs spanning both divisions received first-place votes, which explained the seemingly infinite quantity of questions pertaining to the ACC's parity during the 2009 ACC Football Kickoff's coaches' interviews on Monday. Butch Davis indicated that he was "kind of surprised" that North Carolina was picked third, but also refused to buy into the notion that the Coastal Division crown would require a victory in Blacksburg against Virginia Tech.

After all, that game is nearly three months away.

"Are you going to tell me who's going to get hurt this year from Virginia Tech?" Davis responded rhetorically when asked how UNC will match up against the Hokies and Yellow Jackets. "Who's going to get hurt for Georgia Tech? I'll give you a better answer if you can tell me who all is playing on those days."

ACC sportswriters from Boston to Miami have offered various opinions on the favorite to win the Coastal, highlighting the Hurricanes' immense talent level or Virginia Tech's stout defense, while others point to Georgia Tech's preseason player of the year in Jonathan Dwyer or North Carolina's nine returning defensive starters. All of the arguments have legitimate originations, setting the table for what should be a ridiculous ACC regular season slate.

"I think the Coastal Division is going to be a dead race to the end," senior defensive end E.J. Wilson said. "The winner of our division probably won't be decided until the final weeks of the season. That's the type of talent that we have. It's going to come down to the point where someone is going to have to pull out a surprise win."

As for the preseason poll, starting quarterback T.J. Yates wasn't much concerned on Sunday about where his squad would be picked to finish.

"There's some great talent in the Coastal Division," Yates said. "No matter what, it's going to be up for grabs every year. If you pay too much attention to the preseason rankings, you'll get too much into that and forget about playing the season a game at a time."

When Yates was asked if North Carolina had a chance to win the ACC Championship this season, his response was crisp and direct – "Absolutely."

Wilson was even more forthright in his beliefs about the coming season.

"A successful season in our eyes will be nothing less than winning an ACC Championship," Wilson said. "… The only way 8-5 wouldn't be a disappointment is if we win the ACC Championship."

Davis talked about living in the reality of the moment, working diligently on any given day to improve the program ever so slightly with each passing hour. Provided the Tar Heels continue to buy into their head coach's detailed approach, the rate of return for the 2009 season could be substantial.

A vote in July merely serves as a starting point.

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