Controversy is all over the Coastal Division, as Miami, North Carolina and Georgia Tech have all recently had run-ins with the NCAA. Meanwhile, Virginia Tech is kicking back and watching a division they already dominated become progressively worse. Scandal means it could be an interesting year in the Coastal.
1. Virginia Tech
I'm not the brightest guy in the world, but I know better than to pick against Virginia Tech in the Coastal Division. They have been the ACC's lone model of consistency since they joined the conference in 2004. The Hokies lose ACC player of the year Tyrod Taylor, but Logan Thomas appears ready to step in at quarterback. He'll have plenty of weapons at his disposal, including veteran receivers Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale. Running back David Wilson, perhaps the ACC's fastest player, seems primed for a special year, and a veteran offensive line rounds out what should be a very potent offense. Virginia Tech was surprisingly mediocre on defense last year but managed to keep its opponents out of the end zone. Jayron Hosley and Eddie Whitley anchor what should be a solid secondary, but the Hokies will be looking for answers on the defensive line, where they return just one starter. The biggest reason to like Virginia Tech in this division is their laughably easy schedule. The road slate is pathetic, and you could argue that their toughest game is a home date with Clemson.
2. North Carolina
One thing remains true amid the issues surrounding the North Carolina program: The Tar Heels are talented. Everett Withers takes over as interim head coach after Butch Davis was fired just weeks before the season. While Withers probably isn't a long-term solution, he's got a lot to work with this year. Coaches are giddy about new quarterback Bryn Renner, and with good reason. Renner will be working with the conference's best receiving corps, as Dwight Jones, Jheranie Boyd and Erik Highsmith are all playmakers that stand at least 6'2''. The defensive line may be the ACC's best and features deadly pass-rusher Quinton Coples and line-clogger Tydreke Powell. The secondary is inexperienced, but that won't matter if Coples is in opposing quarterbacks' faces all game. If all of North Carolina's players stay eligible, the Tar Heels could easily compete for a Coastal Division title.
3. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets struggled last year after quarterback Josh Nesbitt suffered a season-ending injury, but I'm not throwing them under the bus like many pundits are. They lost Anthony Allen, but there is still plenty of experience in the backfield. Tevin Washington will have to hold off future star Synjyn Days at quarterback. Tech doesn't throw the ball much, but 6'5'' Stephen Hill will provide a nice target for when they do. The defensive front should improve in the second year of Al Groh's 3-4 scheme, and defensive end Jason Peters is an all-conference caliber player. The secondary lacks experience, so look for opponents to try to exploit that weakness, especially early in the season. Expect Paul Johnson's team to bounce back adequately from a sub-par 2010 season.
Poor Al Golden. The former Temple head coach thought he had scored one of the best gigs in college football only to find out that a rogue booster might have ruined the future of the Miami program. The Hurricanes still have talent, but it's tough to tell how much of it they are going to get to use. Quarterback Jacory Harris has been hit-or-miss throughout his career and will be pushed by sophomore Stephen Morris. Lamar Miller is a talented back, and wide receiver Travis Benjamin is one of the top playmakers in the ACC. The offensive line is experienced and the defensive line boasts talented players in Olivier Vernon and Marcus Forston. Ray-Ray Armstrong and Vaughn Telemaque give the Hurricanes the best safety tandem in the conference. Miami is a talented team, but I think suspensions and general uncertainty about the program's future will be hard to overcome this season.
Mike London's first season as head coach in Charlottesville was a forgettable one as the Cavaliers won just one conference game. They will likely struggle again this season, but improvement could be on the horizon. Michael Rocco takes over at quarterback, and he unfortunately won't have a whole lot of weapons to ease the transition. Running back Perry Jones is decent and Kris Burd is a veteran at wide receiver, but there won't be much for Rocco to rely on aside from that. The defense should be good against the pass again as it returns three starters, including star cornerback Chase Minnifield. The Cavaliers return three starting linemen from a team that struggled mightily against the run. London is recruiting well, so Virginia may be able to turn the corner in the next few years.
David Cutcliffe's resurrection process at Duke is still a work in progress, but the Blue Devils are showing signs of life. They return all the pieces from last year's dynamic passing attack. Sean Renfree may post the best stats of any quarterback in the ACC this year, and he has two very reliable targets in Connor Vernon and Donovan Varner. The Blue Devils still need to improve their ground game, however, and local product Desmond Scott will try to build on the respectable season he had last year. Defense is the Blue Devils' biggest problem, as they finished last in every notable statistical category last season. Safety Matt Daniels is the leader of the secondary, and Kelby Brown will be expected to anchor the linebacking corps after returning from an ACL tear. Duke's passing game makes them competitive, but they're still a ways away from putting up big win numbers.